Tradecraft: Catching Up
No sooner did I return from my snowy travels than I was (unsurprisingly, I suppose) felled by illness. I thought the resulting days off work would at least give me a chance to catch up on blogging and watch a few Eurospy movies, but alas neither was to happen. It was more of a flop down on the couch and watch whatever happens to be on TV sort of illness than a productive one. So now I'm even more behind than I was, and I think the last month has probably been the lightest period of posting in the history of this blog. Mostly recovered now, I'll start catching up with a look at all the spy stuff that's been going on in the trades for the last week. There's a lot of stuff here, and the best isn't all at the top, so dig in!
Deadlier Than The Male: Knockout and Hanna
Female assassins are big these days. Two films centering on them are moving forward from big indy directors, and we have casting news from the trades on both Steven Soderbergh's Knockout (first reported here) and Joe Wright's Hanna (first reported here).
The Hollywood Reporter reports that Channing Tatum (G.I. Joe) and and Michael Angarano (Snow Angels) are in talks to join Knockout, Soderbergh's revenge-oriented spy movie. "The script by Lem Dobbs centers on a spy (mixed martial artist Gina Carano) who works for a Blackwater-style security contractor and is betrayed by one of her teammates. Tatum, who will train with a Mossad agent in preparation for the part, will play one of the agents in her spy cell. Angarano plays a teen who sees Carano in trouble and decides to help, unwittingly ending up as her partner." Soderbergh appears intent on surrounding his non-actress lead with as many top-notch thespians as possible, so far including Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds), Ewan McGregor and Dennis Quaid. The truly amazing thing about this film is that the helmer is making it for just $25 million and even so still shooting in suitably spy-like locales, taking advantage of tax incentives in Spain and Ireland. I'm really looking forward to this one; I just hope Carano has the chops to carry it. If Soderbergh can get a great performance out of a porn star (as he's said to have in The Girlfriend Experience), perhaps he can do it with an MMA fighter as well...
Joe Wright's Hanna is going the other direction. Wright is looking to cast an Oscar-nominated actress in the lead role: fifteen-year-old Saoirse Ronan. Ronan was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her role in Wright's Atonement, and seems likely to receive another nomination this year for her performance in Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones. Hanna sounds a lot like a combination of two Luc Besson movies: La Femme Nikita and Leon: The Professional. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Hanna "follows a 14-year-old Eastern European girl who has been raised by her father to be a cold-blooded killer. She connects with a french family, forms a friendship with their daughter and goes through the pangs of adolescence. When the girl is dragged back to her father's world and discovers she was bred as a killing machine in a CIA prison camp, she must fight her way to a free life." The studio's logline, of course, also invokes Bourne (as does the one for the Soderbergh film), an apparent requisite for any spy movie in this day and age. But Bourne-style action with a fifteen-year-old? Count me in!
Covert Affairs - Plural
Also according to The Hollywood Reporter, USA has picked up their new spy pilot Covert Affairs for a whole season: "Cable's top network has picked up the 90-minute pilot starring Piper Perabo to series with an 11-episode order. The spy drama, from Universal Cable Prods., centers on Annie Walker (Perabo), a multilingual CIA trainee unexpectedly promoted to field operative while reeling over a mysterious ex-boyfriend who appears to be of particular interest to her agency bosses." At least one of those bosses is played by Peter Gallagher (which is awesome). The rest of the pilot's cast includes Christopher Gorham, Anne Dudek and Kari Matchett (who was great on 24 and especially Leverage), all of whom will remain aboard for the series. Eion Bailey, who plays her ex in the pilot, "is expected to at least be a recurring on the show."
USA's president of original programming Jeff Wachtel told the Reporter, "This in some ways is the most ambitious show that we've undertaken. The story is bigger, the production values are bigger, and the ensemble too is a little bigger than our other shows." It hasn't been decided whether Covert Affairs will debut in the summer or the fall, but it will likely be paired with another USA hit. Spy trendsetter Burn Notice would seem like an obvious choice. Covert Affairs is created and co-executive produced by Matt Corman and Chris Ord and executive produced by Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith director Doug Liman.
Malkovich Joins Red
The Hollywood Reporter reports that John Malkovich has replaced John C. Reilly in the all-star Bruce Willis spy thriller Red, based on the Warren Ellis comic book. Willis plays a retired operative contending with younger, more high-tech assassins out to get him. "The role will allow Malkovich to exercise his comic sensibilities as he plays a retired CIA agent, a contemporary of Willis', who is erratic and paranoid that everyone is out to kill him and joins Willis in a quest to find out wha wants them dead." Red starts shooting in Toronto this week under the direction of Robert Schwentke.
Consent to Kill
We've had Licence to Kill, Permission to Kill... now director Antoine Fuqua gives spy fans his Consent to Kill! Variety reports that Shooter director Fuqua "will direct spy thriller Consent to Kill for CBS Films with Lorenzo DiBonaventura and Nick Wechsler producing." The trade reports that the script by Fuqua's Shooter collaborator Jonathan Lemkin is adapted from a 2005 novel by Vince Flynn about counterterrorism agent Mitch Rapp. While the studio is reportedly keeping the logline under wraps, Variety says "in Flynn's story, Rapp battled a vengeful Saudi billionaire, an ex - East German Stasi spy and a husband-and-wife team of assassins -- all while dealing with a knee injury."
Female Star Gets Under Covers
J.J. Abrams has found his new female spy star. According to The Hollywood Reporter , the actress poised to become the next Jennifer Garner is Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who will star opposite the previously announced Boris Kodjoe. The trade reminds us of the essentials on Abrams' first spy series since Alias: "Undercovers, which Abrams co-wrote with Josh Reims, revolves around a domesticated husband (Kodjoe) and wife (Mbatha-Raw) who are re-activated as CIA agents after years of retirement. Abrams also will direct, marking the first pilot he has helmed since Lost in 2004." (Deadline Hollywood adds, "as they work together for the first time on new cases, they discover new aspects from their past - even as they re-ignite their passion for each other.") The Hollywood Reporter says that "Mbatha-Raw, a graduate of London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, broke through during the summer when she was cast as Ophelia opposite Jude Law in the Donmar Warehouse production of 'Hamlet,' which had successful runs in London's West End and on Broadway," but spy fans will likely better know the actress from the fifth season of MI-5 (Spooks) , in which she played Jenny. She's certainly paid her dues on British television, having also played a companion on Doctor Who and starred on the archeological adventure series Bonekickers.
Von Donnersmarck Back on Tourist
The ongoing saga of The Tourist, which has had even more twists and turns than that other spy movie discarded by Tom Cruise, Salt, has taken another turn for the better. Former Variety columnist Mike Fleming, now reporting for Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood blog, reports that The Lives of Others director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who was at one point attached to direct and then wasn't , is now back on board as the director of The Tourist! This is wonderful, wonderful news. The Lives of Others was probably my second favorite spy movie of this past decade (after Casino Royale and just ahead of The Bourne Ultimatum), and I've been eager to see whatever the director did next ever since that film won the 2006 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. I'm especially glad it's another spy movie! And intrigued that it seems to be a more action-intensive one than The Lives of Others. For those playing the Home Version, let me remind you that after going through cast iterations that included Tom Cruise and Charlize Theron, Charlize Theron and Sam Worthington and Sam Worthington and Angelina Jolie now teams the two biggest movie stars in the world, Jolie and Johnny Depp. I can't wait to see those two spying for Von Donnersmarck.