Thursday, May 31, 2007

Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are not a bad start

'Righteous Kill' will give the acting superstars a rare chance to perform together in extended scenes.

By Jay A. Fernandez
Special to The Times

May 30, 2007

When Emmett/Furla Films co-chairman and producer Randall Emmett announced from Cannes two weeks ago that he was financing the $60-million thriller "Righteous Kill," he implied that the idea for the film had been sparked by the desire of friends Al Pacino and Robert De Niro to work together again.

This was news to the script's writer, Russell Gewirtz, who started writing "Righteous Kill" four years ago, before his first attempt at a screenplay, "Inside Man," had even sold. Which would mean that De Niro and Pacino had to have pitched him when he was still just a guy in real estate.

Gewirtz's original screenplay follows two cops pursuing a serial killer and will finally afford moviegoers the opportunity to watch heavyweights De Niro and Pacino do an extended duet after the teases of "The Godfather: Part II," in which they shared credit but not scenes, and Michael Mann's "Heat," which really allowed them only one dramatic confrontation. The film is being rushed into production this summer, with Jon Avnet ("Fried Green Tomatoes") directing and producing.

Gewirtz won't reveal plot details, but "what's exciting is that the movie is really about the relationship between the two of them," he says. "And there'll be plenty of opportunity for them to play with that and do what they do so wonderfully."

Edward Norton had been attached to "Kill" for a while, and Spike Lee ("Inside Man") and John Dahl ("Rounders") had briefly considered it, but nothing really got going until a month ago. Gewirtz, who's been living in Brazil for six months, flew back to New York City to meet Avnet and De Niro for the first time and sit in on a read-through of the script. Two weeks later, Avnet got Pacino onboard.

After "Inside Man" scored such major talent and box office, Gewirtz joked in an interview that, "I can only go down from here." With De Niro's casting, Gewirtz continues his streak of attracting Oscar-winning actors — "Inside Man" stars Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster each have two. (And, believe it or not, Gewirtz is also writing a remake of a French thriller called "Labyrinth" that has attached … Hilary Swank.) As for "Righteous Kill" producer Avi Lerner's hyperbolic comment from Cannes that "this is an event in world history," Gewirtz jokingly affirms that "technically, everything that happens is an event in world history — in that sense, he's correct."

"But listen," he says, "there's no doubt that when anyone looks back at the history of either of these actors, this movie will be one of the defining moments of their careers. Let's hope it's defined in a positive way."