Of all the genres that Hollywood treats us to on a regular basis, crime is certainly one of the most popular and appealing for mainstream moviegoers. Whether its a lighthearted caper in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven or a hard-hitting chronicle of life in the New York mob like Goodfellas, these films have a wide range of stories to tell and frequently find ways to suck viewers in. We can live vicariously through dangerous characters and see narratives that thematically are more relatable than we might think.
The major studios in the industry know all too well just how viable a compelling crime tale can be, which explains why there was such an intense bidding war for the film rights to author Don Winslow’s novel The Cartel (which has parallels to real-life escaped kingpin El Chapo), a followup to his 2006 book Power of the Dog. Pitting DEA agent Art Keller against his friend, Mexican drug lord Adan Berrera, it certainly sounds like something that would make for a captivating movie. And 20th Century Fox is putting a lot of money on the table to bring the project to the screen.
According to THR, Fox has pegged Ridley Scott to direct the film. Shane Salemo, whose screenwriting credits include the likes of Armageddon and Savages, is in line to write the script. The deal that Fox secured (in excess of $7 million, says Deadline) includes the rights to both Power of the Dog and Cartel, though it sounds like it is just the latter (which takes place over a 10 year period of time) that is being adapted for the time being.
Another juicy detail in the Deadline report is that Fox is currently courting Leonardo DiCaprio to star as Keller. It’s no surprise the studio has their eye on the leading man. DiCaprio’s successful partnership with Martin Scorsese includes several forays into the crime genre, so the actor is no stranger to this kind of material. He also has a history with Scott, as the two collaborated on Body of Lies and almost worked together again with Wolf of Wall Street before Scorsese stepped in.
While the idea of DiCaprio headlining another serious crime drama is a tantalizing one to consider, the talent behind-the-camera may give some viewers pause. Salemo’s résumé doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, and even though James Cameron is entrusting him with one of the Avatar sequels, he arguably still has something to prove. Also, Scott has been stuck in a slump both critically and commercially, as several of his recent films (Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Counselor) were extremely divisive and failed to generate solid business at the box office. Still, we’re going to give them the benefit of the doubt for now.
Regardless of how you feel about Scott and Salemo’s involvement, it’s hard to deny that they will be working with excellent source material. One of the reasons so many studios were interested in the novel is because it is subject to universally positive word-of-mouth, with some critics going as far as to compare it to The Godfather in terms of quality and scope. That may sound like high praise, but a story that involves two friends squaring off on opposite sides of the law (and the futility of the drug war in general) has the potential to be very rich indeed. It sounds like as long as Scott stays by the book, he’ll have a winner.
For what it’s worth, the director looks to have a comeback film lined up when The Martian (another adaptation of an acclaimed novel) hits theaters this October, meaning he may not have lost his fastball just yet. Also, DiCaprio has had an uncanny ability throughout his career to pick worthwhile films to star in, so if he signs on it will be a big victory for The Cartel. We’ll have to see how the pieces fall into place, but this one sounds promising at this point.
We’ll keep you updated on The Cartel as more information becomes available.