News didn’t break so much as trickle out this morning here in Hollywood that Nicolas Cage has agreed to play Al Capone in The Untouchables: Capone Rising, Brian De Palma’s prequel to his Summer 1987 smash. As I dealt with deafening construction outside my window while trying to decipher the dulcet tones of Antonio Banderas for this monumentally important Shrek the Third interview, emails from friends began to hit my inbox asking if I’d heard the latest regarding my favorite living director’s* long-in-development project. Before I could begin to poke around on my own, MTV Films had the scoop. Though this cheesed me off a little bit, at least you now have ample evidence that Mike Myers loves the snot out of Jeffrey Katzenberg.
What do I think about the casting? First, let’s set aside the fact that Cage is currently one year younger than Robert De Niro was when he played Al Capone in The Untouchables; De Palma is obviously making a concession to the marketplace. But if you’ve got to play ball with the studio (and De Palma absolutely does), I can’t think of too many other bankable movie stars with Cage’s acting chops. Leonardo Dicaprio would’ve been an interesting choice, but he’s got sixty-seven movies in development at present. Brad Pitt wouldn’t have worked. And Denzel Washington, while a bold non-traditional choice, would’ve probably courted the wrong kind of controversy (and protests from the same hypersensitive Italian-American organization that picketed Jane Austen’s Mafia).
Ultimately, I think Cage coming onboard is a great thing. Not only will he help attract top-tier talent for the role of a younger Malone (Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell and Sean Penn are already being talked up as possibilities), he’ll also ensure that the goddamn movie gets made and, perhaps, turns a profit. As a Brian De Palma fan who desperately wants to see more formal experiments like Femme Fatale and Raising Cain, I’d almost rather this film be a hit than an outright classic (though both would be nice).
In an interview I conducted for this very website last September (thanks to the gracious Devin Faraci), De Palma had this to say about Capone Rising:
The talk right now is that you will make The Untouchables prequel next. The original is one of the few films of yours that was unabashedly commercial. And it’s also one of the few films where I can sense another voice.
De Palma: Yes. I’m interpreting Mamet.
But this script is by Brian Koppelman and David Levien.
De Palma: And rewritten by David Rabe.
Oh, really? That’s great!
De Palma: Well, Art [Linson] and I were in Bulgaria [making The Black Dahlia], and he was working on the script with these two young writers. I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m working on this, but it’s not exactly right.” So I said, “Well, let me read it! I’m sitting here. We’ll have 173 dinners together; we might as well be talking about something.” So that’s how I got involved with it. And then it got quite interesting. There’s an assassination in Tosca that I’ve always wanted to do that I wrote for another script, and I was able to get it into this script. It’s an incredible set piece where they kill [mobster James] Colosimo while he’s watching Tosca, which is something I’ve wanted to do for years. So I’ve got a whole bunch of good ideas. And then we have this whole relationship between the young Sean Connery character and Al Capone with a girl in between them; I came up with this idea of a saloon singer. It’s good.
Obviously, I’ll keep you posted as this one nears production. De Palma’s also got a DV movie about the whatever you wanna call it in Iraq called Redacted that just wrapped in Jordan. And Geoff Beran over at De Palma a la Mod thinks Capone Rising will be next in line after the director completes his adaptation of William Boyd’s The Blue Afternoon. I love this flurry of activity!
*Further to the Spielberg essay from earlier in the week, I’d place De Palma above his pal.