Contrary to the general consensus, I do not think John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man is a great film. I do not even think that it is a good film. Instead, this is a movie with incredible potential, some moments of excellent acting, and many flaws. For one, the story is convoluted. The motivations, especially for the villains, are not strong enough to sustain the plot. The acting is uneven. And most of all, the ending is cartoon-ish and almost embarrassing. To say the least, I think the film deserved a remake and have no doubt that in the right hands with the right cast it could improve the original. Here is my fantasy cast for a remake of Marathon Man.
Babe – Casey Affleck
This first pick (the replacement for Dustin Hoffman) goes along with my second choice. I think it would be very interesting (and successful) to cast the Affleck brothers as on screen siblings in this film. Casey has a weaker, more vulnerable look than Ben, so the dynamic of college student versus spy would work. However, Casey can also believable as an everyman in intense/dangerous situations, proven in his brother’s film Gone Baby Gone. Ben’s assurance and strength as an actor would lend itself to the older brother Doc which was played very well (my pick for the best performance in the film) by Roy Scheider. His clean professionalism and cynicism would contrast well with his brother’s academic idealism. I must admit, I’m also a sucker for brother casting (a la Long Riders) and this is another instance where I think it would work.
Doc – Ben Affleck
Dr. Christian Szell – Klaus Maria Brandauer
To replace Lawrence Olivier, I can see Hollywood going immediately to Christopher Plummer or Max Von Sydow. But Klaus Maria Brandauer is my choice. I still have not seen his reputed work in Mephisto and other early films but even his performances in studio pictures like Out of Africa show a magnificent force at work. I believe he could capture the quiet, tense nature of this escaped Nazi and also the desperation he faces as his plan unravels.
Elsa -Kristin Scott Thomas
“What? Isn’t she too old?” you may ask. Well, yes… and no. I can’t think of a finer actress working today (she deserves much more credit for re-inventing her career in recent French cinema). I don’t think there is anything wrong with casting an older actress in the role, matter of fact it might add a whole new element to the dynamic between her and Babe. The younger and somewhat insecure protagonist might be attracted to someone unconventional, say an older European student with a no-bullshit persona and a mature sexual appetite. This would also help for Doc to be more suspicious of her from the very start, questioning her intentions with his younger brother. Kristin Scott Thomas can transition from warm and affection to cold and cruel in a heartbeat and I think it would be a lot of fun to see her as Elsa.
Peter Janeway -John Hawkes
A bit of an odd choice to replace William Devane, I pick John Hawkes for a few reasons. One, he’s a terrific actor and I’d like to see him in a variety of roles. Second, this character remains throughout the film someone we are not quite sure of. What side is he on? That kind of ambiguity was mastered in Hawkes’ portrayal of the cult leader in last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, the best American film of 2011 in my mind. If you need further proof, watch an equally powerful and ambiguous performance in Winter’s Bone. I’d like to see Hawkes get out of the “woods” and into something more urban and this story would provide that chance.
Director – Sean Durkin
Speaking of Martha Marcy May Marlene, I can’t think of a better director than Sean Durkin to take on this American thriller. He showed so much promise in his debut. He truly created a paranoid environment than not only the protagonist but the audience also descended into. His command of characters and the tension that passes between them is impressive and I look forward to see what he does next. A remake of Marathon Man would be an interesting challenge. Sometimes an independent director falls flat on his face when given a studio assignment; other times it can produce stellar results. I would bet on the latter.