First the bad news: that untitled 1930’s Hollywood noir that Michael Mann was shopping last May? It’s kinda dead. Last I heard, every studio in town had balked at the $120 million price tag, with only New Line offering a reduced-rate greenlight (they asked Mann to knock the budget down to $90 million; that’s $30 million worth of compromise, and, unsurprisingly, that was a no-go for the detail-obsessed director). Maybe one day the John Logan script will trickle out, and we’ll have our hearts broken over what might’ve been. Or maybe it gets resurrected in a year or two, ‘cuz "dead" in this town is just another way of saying "not now".
Now the good: Mann and Logan just got Columbia to shell out seven figures for a screenplay titled Empire, and its greenlight is contingent on Will Smith starring. You’re thinking, "Wait, the last time Mann and Will teamed up, all we got is Ali." No. What you got is Ali, and you should be fucking grateful. The opening montage leading up to the weigh-in is a master class in visual storytelling; in about ten minutes, Mann kills off a huge chunk of exposition and countless obligatory scenes that would’ve taken a hack director like James Mangold an hour to get across (though Mann probably erred by expecting American audiences to grasp in passing
the significance of Emmett Till or the sight of a black child watching
his father paint a blond-haired Jesus Christ). That he crosscuts all of this with Sam Cooke warming up a nightclub before launching into "Bring It On Home to Me"… time to throw in the DVD.
I’ve forgiven many friends their lukewarm feelings for Ali, but dismissing the brilliance of that opening is non-negotiable: you either adore it or, to quote my man J-Dee from Da Lench Mob, we can be some fightin’ motherfuckers.
And this brings us to Empire, about which next to nothing is known. According to Variety‘s Michael Fleming, Smith will play "a contemporary global media mogul". Mann doesn’t have the chutzpah to attempt a modern Citizen Kane, does he? I’m asking just to be ridiculous. And we’re terribly overdue for a Rupert Murdoch takedown.
Mann’s Forward Pass will produce this mystery epic along with Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment. Fleming reports that Mann is "in the process of locking down a film he’ll direct early next year", and I can’t tell if he’s talking about something other than Empire. If so, don’t get your hopes up about that 1930’s noir; Mann’s also attached to Columbia’s Alexander Litvinenko biopic, Death of a Dissident.