I didn't catch Francis Lawrences' circus romance drama Water For Elephants but from everything I've heard, that was a huge mistake I should be regretting. I know our very own Simon Gallagher loved it (but he would, the big softie) but the feeling that Lawrence had made an old fashioned 1930's set nostalgic drama that played it authentic on the emotion was widespread. The guy that made the CGI action fests Constantine and I Am Legend had inexplicably made it work. Certainly in the post-Water For Elephants world, his spearheading of a March-announced Harry Houdini biopic doesn't look as peculiar as it did then. Lawrence has clearly fallen in love with the early 20th century period and I imagine he wants to make a sentimental biopic of the great magician/escape artist/showman and certainly the newly revealed plot hint as much, with a clear romantic subtext;
It sees Houdini striving to expose a troubled, beautiful spiritualist as a fraud. As he becomes obsessed with her, he starts to believe she's authentic, only to uncover what appears to be a tragic scam.
THR say Columbia & Lawrence have found a screenwriter for the film in the name of Scott Frank, a terrific, top-drawer writer who adapted Minority Report for Steven Spielberg, the Elmore Leonard book Out of Sight for Steven Soderbergh and more recently the concept for Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which when he was on board was titled Caesar, when he was due to direct his script). He will most likely be flicking through as many biographies and texts on the great man as he can and watching the famous films of his that still exist, and also possibly the Tony Curtis/Janet Leigh movie Houdini from the 60's - which also went for a romantic tone. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeSHzGOXyRE So then, Lawrence seems to have swapped his CGI/action fest career for sentimental character pieces and rarely is a change in a filmmaker so prominent. If this was three years ago he would have been attached to either; the Summit Houdini project that will focus on the rumour that the escape artist would moonlight as a British government spy in what would be a secret agent, James Bond/Sherlock Holmes type film titled The Secret Life of Houdini, OR... J. Michael Staczysnski's Voices From The Dead, a movie that will team Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle and Houdini as a dysfunctional crime-fighting duo, one which believes in the spiritualism and one who strives to debunk it! BUT NO - it's the straight biopic and I am thrilled. Let's hope Frank can knock it out of the park and they can find a leading man worthy of escaping that straight jacket.