UPDATE, 1:24 PM PT: Looks like there might be competing feature projects about recently freed POW Bowe Bergdahl. Just after breaking a story that Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal are working on a film about the Army private who left his base in Afghanistan and was captured, Deadline has learned that Fox Searchlight has acquired America’s Last Prisoner Of War, an investigative article on Bergdahl by Michael Hastings, the late Rolling Stone reporter who died at age 33 in a car accident in Los Angeles last year. I’m hearing that Todd Field, the director of In The Bedroom and Little Children, is also involved. I will tell you more when I know it. Hastings was a hard-charging journo whose profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal — who ran the war in Afghanistan and who was depicted in the article as openly mocking the White House— was brought home and resigned.
PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE, 12:39 PM PT: Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer/producer Mark Boal, the team behind the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker and Oscar-nominated Zero Dark Thirty, are in the early planning stage on another timely Middle East-set feature project. They are developing a feature based on the story of Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant captured by the Taliban and held prisoner for five years after he left his base in Afghanistan. The project is taking root with Boal’s recently launched Page One shingle, which has backing from Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures. She produced Zero Dark Thirty with Boal and Bigelow and will get first look at the script that Boal will write.
I’m not exactly sure what form the movie will take, but I’ve heard that the filmmakers quietly have been tracking the story for several years with a possible movie in mind. Bigelow and Boal have proved very changeable and able to adapt to developments in real time. They were ready to shop a script about a futile search for Osama bin Laden when President Obama announced that SEAL Team Six had killed the Al-Qaeda leader. Boal, a well-connected journalist who was embedded with troops in the Middle East, went back to his sources, altered course and he and Bigelow told the story of the painstaking but ultimately successful hunt for the 9/11 mastermind.
They also weathered the sting of three U.S. senators — including John McCain — who excoriated the film for its insinuation that torture rooted out intelligence that led to the location of bin Laden. It certainly hurt the film’s chances for a Best Picture Oscar; Bigelow inexplicably was ignored by Academy voters in the Best Director category.
Bergdahl is certainly another hot-button topic, but rife with high drama. An idealistic young man who was home schooled by his religious parents in Idaho, Bergdahl tried to join the French Foreign Legion and spent time at a Buddhist monastery before joining the Army. Not long after being deployed in Afghanistan, he became disillusioned with the bureaucracy and what he saw as incompetence of those around him. He reportedly left the base, wandering around until he was captured by the Taliban. He spent five years as the lone U.S. soldier in captivity, until he was traded for five Taliban higher-ups held at Guantanamo Bay. Some military men have charged he was a deserter and should not have been swapped for five dangerous Taliban operatives. On Capitol Hill, McCain has been among the chorus of pols excoriating the secret deal negotiated by the White House. The drama is still unfolding as the freed soldier attempts to reintegrate into society.
This becomes the second film in development on a topical issue still playing out. Oliver Stone is planning a feature about whistle blower Edward Snowden, who leaked reams of classified documents and is now in Russia.