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.
There is nothing more fun that recasting some of our favorite pictures (or even perhaps ones that were never made). To begin a series called The Casting Director, we will play god for imaginary productions and take a stab at recasting some classic performances (just for fun).
First up, one of the greatest Westerns of all time:
Jeremy Renner as John Russell
Perhaps one of Paul Newman’s best performances, the role of John Russell (or Hombre, half-breed/quiet anti-hero) is hard to fill but I feel there is no current actor better suited to play it than Jeremy Renner. Having proved himself in The Hurt Locker and The Town (not to mention overlooked performances before his breakout in the underrated Twelve and Holding and the horrible 28 Weeks Later, worth it only for Renner), he has the necessary grit to play John Russell. I do not think that he would over-act for an instant and would understand the brilliance of Newman’s work while bringing plenty of his own to the role.
Tommy Lee Jones as Cicero Grimes
Richard Boone cannot be replaced. His role in Hombre and The Tall T are possibly the greatest Western villain roles in all cinema. When considering how to cast Cicero Grimes, I thought of some qualities Boone brought to the role. After all, as my Cinema Station partner Gus Edwards pointed out, Grimes is not a monster. Like all good Western antagonists, he has a code; he lives by his own values and is a formidable if nasty and relentless bad guy. He is charming, funny, and mean as hell. Now, although this actor has not made a career of playing villains, I believe Tommy Lee Jones would be good for the role. First, he understands the Western genre (his own directorial effort Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a great film). Also, from his performance in that and The Fugitive, I recognize a rough, mean sense of humor in Jones. In the latter film, he is charming, tough, relentless and yet reasonable. It would be fun to play off these elements and I believe Jones would be more than capable to play Grimes.
Virginia Madsen as Jessie
It was much harder to recast Jessie (originally played by Diane Cilento) than any other character. I find it ironic that (from my viewpoint) most of the female actors today are much softer than the ones working in old Hollywood. We have no Lauren Bacalls, no Marlene Dietrichs, no Joan Crawfords. Well, there is at least one great actress we have: Virginia Madsen. I really believe that Virginia, as a woman, has the grit to fit perfectly in the Western genre. Modern directors have struggled with this type of casting (Annette Benning in Open Range and Renee Zellweger in Appaloosa) but Virginia is an overlooked talent. Starting with Dennis Hopper’s The Hot Spot (which she steals) to Sideways (which she was the only redeeming part of), Madsen remains the toughest, sexiest American woman in movies today and she is the only one I can see playing Jessie.
Edward James Olmos as Henry Mendez
Martin Balsam was a fantastic character actor. He belongs to a tradition of Hollywood craftsmen who transitioned from one role to the next, regardless of race/age, and turned in good work. I would like to cast Edward James Olmos as Henry Mendez, the stagecoach driver. Olmos is an actor who commands the screen with silent integrity. At an older age, I believe he could capture Mendez’s sympathetic nature as well as his feebleness in the conflict. For this role, I would want to push (more than the original film) the idea that Mendez is tired, maybe once had fire to fight but has seen everything and just wants to get by. He admires John Russell’s pride but advises him to be a “white man for a while”. Olmos has not had a very good role in movies for a long time (though his performance in The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez is yet another underrated entry in the genre) and I would like to see him get some characters he can really sink his teeth into.
Christopher Plummer as Dr. Alex Favor
I believe Christopher Plummer would make a good replacement for Fredric March. Now, I base this decision most on studying his work in The Insider. He is noble, charismatic, yet treacherous and selfish. Plummer would make a damn fine Dr. Alex Favor, too good to have half-breed John Russell sit in the wagon while all the time stealing money from the reservations. I could see the whole bunch having pity for this old, handsome character while “hombre” sees the rotten son of a bitch he really is. With a long career behind him, still turning in good acting, Plummer is my choice.
The Director: Ben Affleck
Finally, I would like to recast the director. Martin Ritt did a terrific job with Hombre. There are few directors who can make a good Western. Though he has not experimented in the genre yet, I give the job to Ben Affleck. With Gone Baby Gone and The Town under his belt and more to come, Affleck is probably the most promising director in Hollywood today. He will undoubtedly have a couple misses at some point but I sense that he has the smarts and persistence to keep telling good stories. It would be interesting to see him take on a Western and with the strength of the male characters in his previous films, I think he’s cut out for it. Also, he has worked with Jeremy Renner and they might make a great team for a redo of Hombre.
Anyway, it’s all dreaming. But heck, what else is there.