EXCLUSIVE: William Friedkin has been plenty selective in the films he directs, but the heralded helmer of The French Connection, The Exorcist, To Live and Die in L.A. and others has found both a script and a star he could not resist.
Kiefer Sutherland will star as Lt. Commander Queeg in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, using a 50-year-old play script written by Herman Wouk from his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. It is being plotted for a January start, and casting is just getting underway. Annabelle Dunne and Matt Parker are producing. Sutherland’s deal is being finalized.
“I’ve looked at a lot of scripts in the last 10 years, and I haven’t seen anything I really wanted to do,” said Friedkin, who most recently directed 2011’s stylish noir drama Killer Joe starring Matthew McConaughey. “But I think about it a lot, and it occurred to me that could be a very timely and important piece, as well as being great drama. The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial is one of the best court-martial dramas ever written.”
The original novel, the 1954 film with Humphrey Bogart as Queeg and a Robert Altman-directed 1988 telepic of the play that starred Midnight Run‘s Brad Davis as Queeg were set during World War II. A naval officer stands trial for mutiny for taking command from a ship captain he feels is acting in unstable fashion, endangering both the ship and its crew.
“The original piece was written for WWII, and Wouk included all the pent-up anger in this country over Pearl Harbor,” Friedkin told Deadline. “I’ve updated it so that is no longer Pearl Harbor. I’ve made it contemporary, involving the Gulf of Hormuz and the Straits of Hormuz, leading to Iran.”
Hormuz provides the only passage between the Persian Gulf and the open sea, making it a critical shipping route that long has been a hotspot because of continuing tensions with Iran. The update was made easier in that even the original was an invention of the late author, who also wrote The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.
“There never was a mutiny in the United States Navy,” Friedkin said. “Herman Wouk virtually created the first and only mutiny in the United States military. His dialogue is terrific, right to the point. It’s set at a trial, but it’s all really by the book, in terms of accuracy. But there never was a mutiny in the United States military. He invented it and all that would take place around it, based on the laws that cover it.”
Friedkin, who altered Wouk’s script himself to reflect a timelier timeline, said he long had admired Sutherland and sought him out for the tense courtroom thriller.
“I think he is one of the best actors in America, one of the very best,” Friedkin said. “I saw every episode of his show 24. I thought he was just great but that he could do a lot more, and this gives him an opportunity to stretch.”
Denise Chamian, coming off Top Gun: Maverick and Elvis, is his casting director, and they are lining out the cast for the early 2023 start.
Sutherland is repped by CAA and Entertainment 360.