Peter Weir/Photo: CC/DrabikPany/Flickr
Jennifer Egan‘s two most recent novels, The Keep and A Visit from the Goon Squad, are like a pair of Jane Austen protagonists: extraordinary beings who contain labyrinthine complexity and dark subversive spirit beneath a deceptively familiar and accessible exterior, each of whom has remained mystifyingly available after years of go-nowhere flirtation and courtship. Both these books were snatched up by smitten producers — The Keep by Ehren Kruger and Daniel Bobker; Goon Squad by HBO — shortly after they debuted to reviews that read like epic poetry before a series of seemingly manufactured obstacles halted the narrative’s march toward a satisfying resolution. And then began a long wait with much frustration involving missed connections and unworthy suitors.
Over the weekend, however, news broke that Peter Weir signed on to write and direct the film version of The Keep, rescuing the project from its protracted development — the filmmaking equivalent of spinsterdom. It’s hard to fathom a more worthy suitor than Weir, the vastly talented Australian filmmaker whose best work delivers an equally potent dose of raw, visceral storytelling and elegantly sweeping epic storytelling. Think about it: The same artist who conjured the impressionistic suspense in “Picnic at Hanging Rock” went on to bring that same atmospheric intensity to big-canvas productions like “The Year of Living Dangerously,” “Witness,” and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.” But as far as we’re concerned, the one film where all his prodigious skills come together as a masterwork of modern allegory is 1993′s “Fearless,” which stars Jeff Bridges as an airplane crash survivor struggling to shed his survivor’s guilt. We’d even argue that “Fearless” is Bridges’ career-best performance — fully realizing those are fighting words (and we have this challenge to dissenters: Bring it).
What’s most exciting about this coupling of project and visionary is that it virtually guarantees each role will be populated by an actor cast slightly against type, working just beyond his/her comfort zone and therefore more real and skinless than we’ve ever seen him/her before. It’s hard not to start assembling a wish list of candidates to play Danny, the novel’s aging hipster protagonist, and Howard, his nerdy cousin and possible tormentor. If we were Weir’s talent scout, we’d look at underused musician-actors to play Danny, like a younger version of Nick Cave. In our mind’s eye, Danny has always been a cross between a dyspeptic Vincent Gallo type and a more soulful bright star, like Peter Sarsgaard or Ryan Gosling, who seems afflicted by the gnawing suspicion that he’s not living up to his potential because things have always come a little too easily. As for Danny, we’re hoping Weir bypasses the obvious choices — John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman — for actors who can pull off something more subtly menacing. This role needs to be embodied by someone who can convincingly evoke the idea that adolescence did not sit easily with him and is out to avenge the bullies of his past. We like the idea of Joseph Gordon-Levitt or even Christian Bale for this role. Or maybe even Jake Gyllenhaal.
A Visit from the Goon Squad isn’t without its own very viable prospects. Just over a year ago, just after the elliptical novel about the struggle for authenticity and fulfillment in a world defined by pop culture’s absurd inanity received the Pulitzer Prize, HBO pounced on the property and began developing a series based on the book’s intertwining characters. It was a promising development. And yet, here we are a year later without any tangible forward momentum to speak of. No casting news. No word of a brilliant show runner attaching himself to the project. So the project waits for the deus ex machina that will propel it to the joyful resolution we all crave: a fantastically complex TV epic whose characters are as flawed as they are interesting and can be relied upon to hold a mirror up to its audience each week.
Alas, because life lacks the tidy resolutions of an Austen novel, we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with The Keep’s confirmed engagement and hope Goon Squad isn’t far behind. What are your thoughts on whether Peter Weir will bring the right stuff to this project? Which actors top your casting list for the project’s lead characters? And who are some of the usual suspects you most hope the film’s producers avoid?