this year, Johnny Depp and Michael Mann rushed to set up separate projects centered on the erstwhile Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who perished in London from poloniun-210 radiation poisoning. Considering that Litvinenko had been quite critical of the allegedly corrupt reign of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and had fallen ill immediately after taking tea with former KGB officer Andrei Lugovi (who proceeded to leave a trail of radiation all over London before returning to Moscow), it’s fair to say that the Geiger counter is jumping on charges of state-sponsored murder.

Though it initially seemed that Depp and Mann would be racing each other to get their respective treatments of the film to the big screen, word out of the just-concluded 2007 Cannes Film Festival indicates that the two gentlemen will combine their efforts at Warner Brothers, which has acquired the film rights for the soon-to-be published book from Litvinenko’s widow, Marina (who was attending the fest for a showing of the documentary Rebellion: The Litvinenko Affair). Mann and Depp collaborating on anything is a fine idea; let’s just hope that Ms. Litvinenko isn’t confused.

Let’s also hope this isn’t the death knell for Mann’s untitled backlot noir announced several weeks ago. While the Litvinenko story is undoubtedly far more important in the grand scheme of things, I need to have Mann doing a ludicrously expensive, studio-bound movie set during the late 1930s with Leonardo DiCaprio, and I’m willing to get loose with a little polonium-210 to see that it happens.

Since the British government is currently trying to extradite Lugovi, this project might get rushed into production in order to help that process along. No matter how admirable that impulse may be, it’ll also ensure that the film has a limited shelf life. If they could hold off until this saga has a conclusion, the film would be better for it.