As the leader of the task force known as The Untouchables, lawman Eliot Ness has earned a special place in the annals of American mythology. While history looks back on the prohibition era as a failed experiment, Ness has largely transcended criticism thanks, in part, to his work in bringing down notorious criminal Al Capone. Ness’s life and works are, frankly, perfect fodder for the cinematic treatment.
There’s been no shortage of Ness on the big screen, of course. Most memorably, in The Untouchables, which starred Kevin Costner (Criminal) as the legendary lawman alongside Robert De Niro (The Comedian) as Capone. Three decades after its release, The Untouchables remains the gold standard for Ness depictions, which makes sense considering the story it told is the gold standard for Ness stories. It’s far from the only victory he had in law enforcement. A new film in the works plans on telling a tale you might be less familiar with.
Deadline is reporting that director Paul Greengrass (Jason Bourne) has entered negotiations to helm Ness, a new film based on the lawman’s escapades. The film has been written by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) based on the graphic novel Torso by Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko, which examines one of Ness’s post-Capone cases in Cleveland.
The film would be a reunion of sorts for Helgeland and Greengrass; Helgeland did some uncredited revision work on The Bourne Supremacy, the second of the original three Bourne films and the first with Greengrass as director. It should be interesting to see how Greengrass works with Helgeland now that the writer has more than just some revision work. Given that Helgeland has written an Academy Award-winning adapted screenplay before, there shouldn’t be any problems bringing the vision of Bendis and Andreyko to life.
The Eisner Award-winning graphic novel on which Ness will be based was a stunning achievement in its own right. The story followed Ness’s work on the Cleveland Torso Murderer case, which found law enforcement officials struggling to identify the bodies of victims without heads or limbs. It was a classic detective story involving legwork and interviews without the benefit of DNA testing or CSI technology. To craft the work, Bendis and Andreyko blended real photographs, historical documents, and artwork to tell a tale wrought with tension and dread.
It’s an appealing take on the life of a lawman that so many people don’t know. For the most part, the story of Ness begins and ends with the story of Capone, but as the Torso Murderer case proves, his career was much more storied and wild than it was even in the Untouchables era. Bendis and Andreyko’s comic is one of the more bizarre and frightening works of true crime from the last two decades, and bringing this story to life could be a big deal.
Greengrass has the remarkable ability to bring audiences directly into the story. His work on the Bourne series forever changed the way super spy stories are presented. The prospect of him bringing a similar aesthetic to the world of serial killers is almost too good to be true. There’ve been numerous attempts to bring Torso to life in the past, including by director David Fincher (Gone Girl) and most recently by director David Lowery (Pete's Dragon). Hopefully, this one gets off the ground.
We’ll keep you updated on Ness as more information becomes available.
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