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With his new projects, Mike Newell continues to zigzag

May 28, 2010 |  6:54 pm

EXCLUSIVE: As "Prince of Persia" opens this weekend, it shines a spotlight on many things, including Jake Gyllenhaal's workout regimen (and the collective fascination therewith).

Newell But one of the most interesting stories unfolded behind the camera, as Mike Newell, director of intimate character studies like "Donnie Brasco" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral," struck out in an action-adventure direction. We stopped off in London on the way back from Cannes to talk to Newell about the latest turn in an eclectic career. The result of  that conversation — especially the dynamic with producer Jerry Bruckheimer — can be read here, but an adjunct story to all this is what Newell does next. This is, after all, a filmmaker who followed the feminist drama "Mona Lisa Smile" with a Harry Potter movie ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") and then a Gabriel Garcia Marquez adaptation ("Love in the Time of Cholera") with a Jerry Bruckheimer extravaganza ("Persia").

Newell sounded much like someone who wants to go back to his character-intensive days. He's got several films in that spirit already in the hopper. Two of them have been reported — a story about a Russian security agent caught in the cross-hairs of the Mafia, and an adaptation of a children's  fantasy called "Box of Delights" — and either could be his next movie. Not reported previously, but one that came up in our conversation and which Newell sounded enthusiastic about, is an adaptation of a Dickens novel, "Dombey & Son," an adventure-filled family drama about a shipping mogul.

Most notably, sources also say that Newell has been hired to develop "Agent Zigzag," a true story about a double agent who worked for both the British and Germans during World War II, sometimes both simultaneously (and wasn't averse to the good life, either). 

The film, which is set up at New Line, concerns Eddie Chapman, a Brit born on the wrong side of the tracks who was able to charm both the Allies and the Axis powers, even getting close enough to Hitler to potentially assassinate him. Both sides were deeply skeptical of Chapman, but he was so persuasive and so cool under pressure they couldn't help themselves, passing along highly classified information to him and bringing the agent into their inner circle anyway. Chapman, for his part, worked their respect both for espionage and self-enrichment purposes.

The film project is based on a book from journalist Ben MacIntyre (for a sense of how colorful and mesmerizing a character Chapman was, check out this review) and has a nice pedigree: "Race to Witch Mountain" writer Mark Bomback has written a draft of the script and Tom Hanks' Playtone is producing.

Newell is the kind of director who could deftly handle almost any material, imbuing it with plenty of character subtlety. That may not fully come out in a Bruckheimer movie. But it did in a gem like "Brasco," and it almost certainly will in a movie filled with tension, double-crosses and a charming rogue at the center. We say bring it on.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Mike Newell at the Sunset Marquis in Los Angeles. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

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