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Will Gerardo Naranjo’s New Political Thriller “A Man Must Die” Focus on Manuel Noriega?

Will Gerardo Naranjo's New Political Thriller "A Man Must Die" Focus on Manuel Noriega?

Gerado Naranjo is one of the most exciting new filmmakers on the international scene, combining a vibrant mix of heady cinematic influences with pop aesthetics and provocative politics. When I profiled Naranjo for Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch issue, in the wake of the success of his last feature “Miss Bala,” he spoke about a new adaptation, which according to reports, sounds like it’s moving forward with Focus Features as “A Man Must Die.”

“Now, finally, I’ve found a nice American project that I can adapt, a story, it’s a real story, an international thriller that deals with the F.B.I., C.I.A., and a dictatorship outside the U.S. – the F.B.I. has one version, the C.I.A. has one version, and the dictatorship had one version,” he told me.

While Naranjo wouldn’t explicitly spell out the subject matter, the situation sounds a lot like America’s dealings with Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.

Noriega reportedly worked with the C.I.A. from the late 1950s to the 1980s, and being paid by the U.S., allowed the Americans special listening posts in the Panama canal and aided American-backed guerrillas in Nicaragua by acting as a conduit for U.S. money, and according to some accounts, weapons. But in 1988, the F.B.I. lead an investigation into Noriega’s drug dealings and he was eventually indicted in the U.S. on drug charges.

With America’s long history of abetting and interfering with plenty of dictatorships over the years, it’s hard to say for sure that Naranjo was talking about Noriega. But given Naranjo’s background, I’d say it’s a good bet. Several books have documented the U.S.’s unseemly relationship with Noriega, from Frederick Kempe’s “Divorcing the Dictator: America’s Bungled Affair with Noriega” to John Dinges’ “Our Man in Panama” as well as the 1992 Oscar-winning documentary “The Panama Deception.”

The project certainly falls in line with Naranjo’s ambitions. When we talked last year, he told me he was looking for a more international project after making his excellent Mexican-made features “Drama/Mex,” “Voy a explotar” and “Bala,” possibly, because he knew a lot would be riding on what he does next. “I don’t consider myself just a Mexican,” he said. “I don’t feel this idea of boundaries or borders, and I would like to make movies that have that same feeling.”

After “Miss Bala,” he said there “have been big offers,” but added they weren’t “very interesting,” he said. “I think the scripts we’ve been getting are a little bit, you know, brainless action. I would love to make like a ‘Mad Max,'” he added, “but I would also like to have the emotion in there.”

Naranjo also has a script about an international heist thriller based on an offshore oil rig; he’s also attached to direct an adaptation of Charles Martin’s novel The Mountain Between Us.


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