Say what you will about music video director turned feature filmmaker Francis Lawrence, but when “I Am Legend” destroyed the box office, he quickly vaulted himself into the top tier of big budget filmmakers. That said, he seems to be making some considerable moves away from easily categorized tentpoles. This spring will see the release of the Depression-era circus drama (really) “Water For Elephants” with Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz and it looks for one of his future projects, Lawrence will shift gears dramatically again.
Deadline reports that Universal has picked up the rights to Laura Hillenbrand‘s bestseller “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” and are in talks with Lawrence to direct. The non-fiction work chronicles the amazing story of Louis Zamperini, a former Olympian who endured unbelievable hardship while a Japanese POW during WWII. He was subjected to medical experiments, slave labor, and brutal beatings and became the target of one sadistic guard in particular, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, whose goal it was to break Zamperini. The athlete endured his harsh punishment right though until the end of the year, but the lingering effects were still felt. He routinely had terrifying nightmares, suffered alcoholism and on the verge of losing everything, he found God and forgave his captors, even traveling to Japan to forgive them in person (though Watanabe refused to meet him).
Certainly, it seems like a story ready-made for the big screen so it can’t be too much of a surprise the project has been kicking around for decades. Universal picked up Zamperini’s life rights way back in 1957 and planned to make a film based on his memoirs, “Devil At My Heels,” with Kirk Douglas in the lead but the project never came together. Later, Antoine Fuqua and Nicolas Cage were set to make a film based on a script by Robert Schenkkan (“The Pacific“), rewritten by Neil Tolkin (“The Emperor’s Club,” “Jury Duty“) but that one fell apart too.
Well, the with new source material the project is once again and the studio is eying “Crazy Heart” writer/director Scott Cooper to pen the screenplay. Following the sleeper success of “Crazy Heart,” Cooper has become in demand, being linked a number of projects including “Tales From The Gangster Squad” (which seems to have gone to Ruben Fleischer) and a remake of the Argentinian thriller “Carancho.” No word yet if he’ll take the gig, but if he does, this project becomes an easy awards horse for the studio.
Whether or not Lawrence has the chops to handle delicate emotional material remains to be seen, but we’ll see what he’s got when “Water For Elephants” hits on April 22nd.