Last year, Playtone heads Tom Hanks and Gary Goeztman co-optioned the film rights to best-seller Erik Larson’s non-fiction book In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. The prestigious period drama is being co-backed by Universal Pictures, but has failed to make much progress over the past nine months since Hanks came aboard as both leading man and producer. That can be attributed to him working on the animated web series Electric City, as well as tackling the title role Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips.
Hanks and Goeztman have garnered Emmy nods for HBO’s political drama Game Change – not to mention, the former is getting to work on Disney’s Mary Poppins behind-the-scenes drama, titled Saving Mr. Banks – but plan to get cameras rolling on In the Garden of Beasts soon. We previously anticipated that the adaptation of Larson’s Nazi Germany tale would have no trouble attracting a high-profile helmer; sure enough, reports are now in that newly-crowned Oscar-winner Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) is being eyed for the job.
Hazanavicius is technically still in talks to direct In the Garden of Beasts for the time being, but Deadline indicates he is pretty much locked down at this point. The filmmaker handled sole writing and helming duties on his Best Picture-winning silent film, but will be collaborating on the Beasts adapted screenplay with an as-yet unspecified writer (who is expected to be hired soon). Natalie Portman is being courted to appear as Hanks’ daughter, but the actress has projects like Thor 2, Jane Got a Gun, and a Terrence Malick film taking up her time over the next year (that’s to say, she may be kind of a long shot right now).
In the Garden of Beasts tells the story of professor William E. Dodd (Hanks), who was elected to serve as America’s ambassador to Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich back in 1933. Dodd and his family were, at first, smitten with life in Germany; however, Dodd thereafter began to recognize the dangers of the State Department’s press censorship and reports of violence against the Jewish population. Larson’s book transforms this historical text into a captivating yarn about how the world came to realize that Hitler’s sensationalist politics were less enthralling, more absolutely terrifying – as told through the eyes of a man and his family, who encountered the rise of the Nazi empire first-hand.
Hanks has long shown an interest in revisiting the past, with his involvement as a producer on such television mini-series as From the Earth to the Moon, Band of Brothers, John Adams, and The Pacific. He has occasionally landed in trouble for (allegedly) allowing his left-wing political affiliations to influence these revisionist takes on history; though, such controversy hasn’t prevented these programs from collecting solid ratings and awards. In the Garden of Beasts seems less likely to attract such criticism, but that will depend partially on how the film approaches the idea of the world being slow to respond to Nazi Germany’s rising stature.
As for Hazanavicius: he demonstrated excellent technical chops on The Artist, ably resurrecting the old-fashioned art of silent, black-and-white, cinema. In the Garden of Beasts is another, uh… beast altogether, in terms of style and substance, so it will be interesting to what Hazanavicius does with it. Admittedly, the 1930s setting and historical subject matter would organically lend itself to a film that employs similar retro-visual flourishes – though, the director has already been criticized in some circles for using such an approach as a gimmick in The Artist, so it might be best he does not repeat it here.
You can catch Tom Hanks on the big screen in next month’s Cloud Atlas, where he plays no less than six different characters.
More on In the Garden of Beasts as the story develops.