Sep 8, 2012

Tradecraft: Doug Liman to Direct Adaptation of Olen Steinhauer's Tourist Written by Covert Affairs Duo

Last time we heard about a movie version of Olen Steinhauer's The Tourist, the novel had been snapped up at the manuscript stage by George Clooney and Grant Heslov's production company with Clooney looking to star in and/or direct. That was in 2007. Now five years have passed and a whole other spy movie called The Tourist (bearing no relation whatsoever to Steinhauer's novel) has come and gone and pretty much ruined the title for this movie, while Steinhauer has penned two excellent sequels about secret agent Milo Weaver, The Nearest Exit and An American Spy. And the rights have changed hands. Today, Deadline reports that Sony has acquired the rights to all three Milo Weaver novels for Doug Liman to direct at least the first one. That's a great match! Steinhauer's novels have cemented his reputation as being the closest thing there is today to an heir to John le Carré. (The Nearest Exit is the cleverest mole hunt novel I've read in a long, long time—or is there a mole after all? The books must be read in order, though.) They've got more action than the average le Carré yarn, but they share the master's ingenious twists, rich characters, and cynical outlook on the espionage business. And Doug Liman is one of the best espionage directors working today, having helmed The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Fair Game, and produced the USA TV series Covert Affairs. This should prove a perfect match, with the material falling somewhere between Bourne and Fair Game, taking Liman into somewhat new spy territory. And he's got good help tackling it! The trade blog reports that his Covert Affairs collaborators, series creators Matt Corman and Chris Ord, will pen the script. Again, that seems like a perfect match for the material as they've proven week after week that they're capable of telling mature, exciting spy stories grounded in reality. The writers will work on the script while Liman directs the Tom Cruise sci-fi movie All You Need is Kill, and then hopefully the director will move on to Milo Weaver. Whatever this ends up being called (since it surely can't be The Tourist now, sadly), it's just shot to the top of my list of spy projects to be excited for in the next couple of years! Steinhauer's books are the real deal, and, handled correctly, should make great movies.


Quiller said...

I was excited to read The Tourist from the time it was announced that George Clooney's company had bought the rights, way back in 2007. I waited for what felt like an eternity, and grabbed it as soon as the hardcover hit the bookstores in early 2009. When I finished it, I thought, "That was good, but Clooney is a decade too old to play Milo Weaver."

So the news that Liman has taken over the project is very interesting indeed, and I think this material will be more in his wheelhouse than The Bourne Identity was. Seriously, who could have guessed, back in 1996, that Swingers would turn out to be the most atypical movie of Liman's oeuvre? Not me, that's for sure.

I haven't read An American Spy yet, because having found it helpful to reread The Tourist before diving into The Nearest Exit I'm now rereading both novels before taking on the latest installment. Steinhauer is a great writer, and Milo Weaver is a fantastic character, sort of a 21st-century American George Smiley, just not as likely to become head of the outfit! There's no bigger cliche in spy-fi than the Special Section/Elite Unit That Gets The Jobs No One Else Wants, but the Department of Tourism is one of the most convincingly worked out variants on this concept I've yet seen. Indeed, the whole series exudes an authentically 21st-century atmosphere that is unlike anything else in spy fiction right now; I often feel that writers like Vince Flynn, Ted Bell and others are still playing out the tropes of Cold War and post-Cold War espionage, but Steinhauer has a firm grasp on more contemporary themes and conflicts.

As for the title... well, the Depp/Jolie film tanked in the US, taking in only $67 million against a reputed $100 million budget (it did, however, take in close to $300 million worldwide, so it did end up turning a profit). And since Liman is working on the Tom Cruise movie for release in 2013, it'll probably be 2014 or 2015 before The Tourist hits theaters, which I think would be enough distance between the 2010 film that this one could use the same title. We'll find out, I guess.

Tanner said...

I totally agree about Steinhauer, Quiller! I think he's head and shoulders above a lot of his contemporaries in the genre, especially among popular American authors. (Of course there are others who stand out, too, like Greg Rucka.) And that's largely because of what you say: he's got a handle on this era. That's plainly evident in his short story in the anthology Agents of Treachery, too, which is well worth seeking out if you like his Milo Weaver novels. That was the first thing I'd read by him and it made me want to read more. I'd say it's a very good strategy to re-read the previous Weaver novels before An American Spy, as it builds heavily on what's gone before. I think you'd be totally lost if you tried to read these out of order, but even reading them IN order, some refreshing is called for to fully appreciate the intricacies of the plots! No one should let that dissuade them, though. The whole series is outstanding and well worth your time!

I also agree that the Department of Tourism is a great take on the special section, but then again there are LOTS of takes on the special section that I like: the Double O's, the scalp hunters, the sandbaggers, the minders, and of course the Section, as run by Hunter. I don't mind that cliche because it has so many wonderful variants! But the Department of Tourism is a very timely, 21st Century one.

I don't really think that the failure of The Tourist at the U.S. box office (but not, as you point out, around the world) makes it any MORE likely that we'll see another movie of the same title. The Avengers notwithstanding, that's usually a kiss of death. Of course, the (completely undeserved) disappointment of John Carter didn't stave off a wave of titles with just a guy's name. If Jack Ryan and Jack Reacher succeed, I fear we might be in for a Tourist called "Milo Weaver!" More seriously, though, Department of Tourism might not be a bad alternative...