By Elsa Keslassy, Brent Lang
“Small Crimes” centers on a disgraced former cop, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau of “Game of Thrones” fame, who comes home after finishing a six-year prison sentence for attempted murder. He tries to find redemption, but winds up ensnared in a mess he left behind, caught in the middle of a crooked sheriff, a district attorney out for revenge, and a mafia baron.
Netflix was very active at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, buying “Mudbound,” an acclaimed historical drama, for $12.5 million in the biggest deal of the fest. It nabbed several other projects, including “Icarus,” a buzzy documentary about Russian doping, and “Chasing Coral,” a look at global warming.
Evan Katz — a former music journalist — directs the film from a screenplay he wrote with Macon Blair (“Blue Ruin”). He was previously at SXSW in 2013 with his directorial debut “Cheap Thrills.” The cast includes Molly Parker (“House of Cards”), Gary Cole (“Veep”), Robert Forster (“Jackie Brown”), Blair, and Jacki Weaver (“Animal Kingdom”). In addition to the upcoming season of “Game of Thrones,” Coster-Waldau will next appear in the upcoming prison thriller, “Shot Caller.”
David Lancaster and Stephanie Wilcox of Rumble Films produced the picture. It was financed by U.K.’s Rooks Nest (“The Witch,” “Obvious Child”) and French-based Backup and Paradise City. The executive producers include Katz, Jon Shiffman, Julia Godzinskaya, Michael Sackler, Sophie Vickers, Emilie Georges, Naima Abed, Nicholas Kaiser, Andrew Schwartzberg, Jaime Schwartzberg, David Atlan-Jackson, Joel Thibout, and Jean-Baptiste Babin. CAA packaged the film. The rights were sold by WME Global and Memento Films International.
By Dave McNary
“Dark Night,” which premiered at Sundance in January, will screen at the Venice Intl. Film Festival. The film focuses on the lives of six strangers intersecting at a suburban multiplex where a massacre occurs.
“Donnybrook,” the first novel from Frank Bill, follows two men as they try to get to the Donnybrook — a legendary backwoods bare knuckle brawl where the winner gets $100,000. Bill is the author of the short-story collection “Crimes in Southern Indiana.”
Sutton’s previous films include “Memphis” and “Pavilion.”
“I was knocked out when I read ‘Donnybrook,’ the most raw, out of control, nasty piece of business I have ever come across,” said Rumble Films topper David Lancaster. “It fits perfectly within the signature films that Tim has made culminating with the powerful ‘Dark Night.’”
Lancaster launched Rumble Films in 2014 following eight years as co-president at Bold Films where he produced critically acclaimed “Whiplash,” “Nightcrawler” and “Drive.” Rumble’s films to date include “Eye in the Sky,” starring Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman and Barkhad Abdi, and “Message from the King,” which will screen at the Toronto International Film Festival and stars Chadwick Boseman with Fabrice du Welz directing.
Rumble recently wrapped production on “Small Crimes,” director E.L. Katz’s crime thriller starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jacki Weaver, Robert Forster, Gary Cole and Molly Parker.
Sutton is represented by UTA, Cinetic and attorney André des Rochers. Debbie Von Arx represented Rumble Films. Bill is repped by Shari Smiley at Gotham Group and Stacia Decker of Dunow, Carlow, Lerner.
By Dave McNary
The film will shoot this summer and is set for an early 2017 delivery. E.L. Katz is directing from a script he co-wrote with Macon Blair in a story of a disgraced former cop who — fresh off a six-year prison sentence for attempted murder — returns home looking for redemption but winds up trapped in the mess he left behind.
This is Katz’s second film after “Cheap Thrills,” which premiered in SXSW in 2013 where it won the Audience Award and was released in the US through Drafthouse Films.
Lancaster’s credits include “Drive,” “Nightcrawler” and “Whiplash.
“’Small Crimes’ provides another opportunity to bring the crime genre to audiences in a fresh and stylish way with an exciting combination of Nikolaj in the lead role and Evan directing,” he said. “Evan has a singular vision for this project, an incredible grasp of tone, and an undeniable passion for moviemaking. I’ve been eager to work with him ever since I saw Cheap Thrills.”
The film is based on Dave Zeltserman’s novel published in 2008. Coster-Waldau also stars in Bold Films’ prison thriller “Shotcaller,” which will be released later this year.
The film is financed by Rumble Films and Burn Later Productions. Memento Films International will be handling sales in Cannes. The project was developed through MFI’s sister company Paradise City, which will also act as a co-producer on the film.
Coster-Waldau also starred in “Gods of Egypt” and “Oblivion.”
Katz is represented by CAA and managed by Jeremy Platt. Coster-Waldau is represented by WME. The deal was negotiated by Rumble’s Jon Shiffman and attorney Debbie Von Arx for Rumble, Burn Later partners Paul Bernon and Sam Slater, and Emilie Georges and Naima Abed for Memento.
CAA arranged the film’s financing and represents its domestic distribution rights.
By Tom Brueggemann
Early year releases can be successful. 2015 saw Weinstein's "The Woman in Gold," Fox Searchlight sequel "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and A24's "Ex Machina" haul in $25-33 million totals, while Searchlight's Oscar-winner "The Grand Budapest Hotel" hit $60 million the year before. (A24 went wide with its smart-horror hit "The Witch.")
"Eye in the Sky" won't reach that level, but it tops a slew of recent high-end post-Oscar season releases. (Sony Pictures Classics launched "Lady in the Van" in January hoping for Maggie Smith recognition, but even without it still managed nearly $10 million.) Going early in the year can lessen chances of awards attention later, but films can also grab more attention, as audiences do pay heed to new titles over 12 months, not just during the awards-friendly September-February period. And for distributors, competition and marketing expenses are much reduced.
And so Bleecker has pushed "Eye in the Sky" to $15 million in just under seven weeks, placing ninth or tenth at the box office for the last four weekends. Assuming Hood's drone and missile anti-terror thriller continues to hold well (this past weekend saw only a 22% drop), "Eye in the Sky" looks on track to approach $20 million, a superb result for a film acquired for a reported $2 million when it premiered at Toronto last September. That number would put it in the range of the similarly intense and thoughtful Oscar-winning war saga "The Hurt Locker," which took in $17 million (about $19 million in today's ticket prices) for a summertime release that was not boosted theatrically by its later awards success (it went to DVD).
1. Sell Helen Mirren
Few actors really can do much more than get a film initial attention, even in the specialized world. Mirren is one of several British actors (also Maggie Smith and Judi Dench) and of course Meryl Streep who immediately lend status to a title. In the decade since her Oscar win for "The Queen," Mirren has played a series of smart, tough-minded and versatile characters with an energy that belies her age and in some cases gender: "Red," "The Debt," "The Hundred-Foot Journey," "The Woman in Gold," "Hitchcock," and "Trumbo." Not all were successes ("Hitchcock" disappointed), but they made her ideal for the role of the woman in charge of a British military intelligence unit targeting Somali terrorists planning new attacks in Kenya.
2. Pick a Smart Release Strategy
Other than "Lady in the Van," most of the films for specialized audiences for the first two months of the year were Oscar nominees, playing week after week trying to maximize revenues from nominations. That competition for media attention— and likely exclusion from later awards attention —brings a hunger for fresh films by early March. But there is also risk, as the weeks that follow are crammed with releases with similar aims that can quickly overtake the slightly older fare.
The March 11 date for "Eye" came about two weeks after the Oscars. The initial week saw Terrence Malick's star-driven "Knight of Cups" in play in New York and Los Angeles, which came and went with little impact. The next week saw "Eye" head to head with Roadside Attractions' older female appeal rom-com "Hello, My Name Is Doris." Both opened well ($23,000 and $21,000 per theater averages respectively). "Doris" smartly broadened more quickly (Roadside often initially takes their films to a wider audience with great success) and outpaced "Eye" at first. But Bleecker Street held back until April 1 to really broaden, going from 123 to 1,029 runs to make its biggest advertising push. It came with a bonus. That weekend saw no new wide release films from studios (a rarity), giving it a higher profile and easy access to top theaters across the country.
3. Gauge Audience Appeal and Risks
Few specialized films break out without shaping marketing to both capitalize on strengths (Mirren's presence and good reviews) and overcoming weaknesses. The latter kept "Eye" from getting an even higher acquisition price for its producers. Its military subject sometimes works for the specialty audience, but rare success "The Hurt Locker" was aided by the best possible critical response and fell much earlier in the cycle of post-9/11 war films. Obviously "American Sniper" was in another league entirely.
Its specific subject—a complex series of decisions about targeting terrorists and the technological and human elements involved—had previously been covered in "Good Kill" with Ethan Hawke last year (just after "Boyhood"), who played a nearly identical role to Aaron Paul's missile-targeter questioning his job. It managed to gross a grand total of $316,000.
What sets "Eye" apart is that though the moral dilemmas involved are front and center, it is shaped more as a thriller and skillfully weaves several different perspectives and locations (mainly Nairobi Kenya, London and a Nevada military base) together over a brief period as a group of likely terrorists are spotted together (by aerial spying equipment). The human drama involved —the stakes and dilemmas for the various military and civilian participants, the issue of collateral damage on the ground, all against a tight and increasingly suspense-filled deadline —is multi-faceted. But it is tough to convey this in a way to give it a distinctive feel, let alone engage an older audience used to more conventional dramas and themes.
The marketing material— trailers, posters, clips — tackled this head on. They emphasized the film's complex moral issues (even more relevant in the middle of a presidential campaign with issues of appropriate military response are central), the gadgetry involved (real life, not fantasy, but giving the film a James Bond feel) and positioned the film as a thoughtful but tense thriller. This isn't hard to pull off in a trailer, but finally the people who were compelled to see the movie came away satisfied. That's when good word of mouth feeds a hit.
The marketers also made sure this wasn't presented as only a star vehicle positioned to garner awards notice. While Mirren surely delivers, the film's strength is its ensemble led by Alan Rickman in one of his most riveting (and sadly final) performances, as well as Paul showcasing his talents better than any other post-"Breaking Bad" role. But the casting gave dividends beyond: Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi proved that "Captain Phillips" wasn't a fluke, as well as a whole range of skillful British actors including Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Northam, and Iain Glen. And this extended to the smallest roles where stock characters quickly gained depth and usually sympathy for their characters' plights and dilemmas. With the right Bleecker awards positioning later in the year, Mirren, Paul and Rickman (the latter oddly never Oscar nominated) could score some nods.
4. Bank on Outside the Box Appeal
For better or worse, the formula for breakout success for specialized films these days is narrow. Apart from the near prerequisite English soundtrack, too many movies, despite the pretense of cutting edge arthouse films, often play it safe and conventional without challenging audiences. In truth, the older specialized film devote, though often politically liberal, tends to be more artistically conservative, often responding to feel-good movies. "Spotlight" is an example of a superior drama with great craft that deserves its acclaim.
Most successful films mute their moral dilemmas to make audience identification relatively easy (though some popular films like military-themed "American Sniper" and "Zero Dark Thirty" absorb some complicated issues). "Eye in the Sky" puts morality front in center for its audience, giving them all the sides but leaving it to them to answer for themselves what the right decision is. That is a risk that seems to have been pulled off here.
The film does more than rely on a straightforward narrative story and outstanding actors. The script is wordy and dense, but the film's masterful editing adds tension as it cross-cuts among diverse visually exotic locations over a limited (and crucial) time frame and deploys sound and VFX to good effect.
The slower release pattern seems to have worked to increase interest from men who are not normally specialized film attendees. Bleecker worked hard to draw from military communities (the film did particularly well in the Washington D.C. area). This audience isn't easy to reach, but once they sample and like it, this can increase appeal and sustain word of mouth interest now evident in later weeks of the run.
Unusually, "Eye" manages to bring tension, excitement, and edge-of-seat intrigue to a specialized movie. Clearly this paid dividends.
5. Deal with the Unexpected
Sometimes external events come into play during a film's life. The unfortunately untimely death of Alan Rickman came just ahead of the release and gave greater attention to his work. Ongoing news focus on drone attacks also added interest.
But luck within the release schedule can help as well. The last few weeks have seen an unusually big number of early spring high-profile specialized releases. Apart from the successful "Doris" and the Terence Malick flop, new releases have included prime entries from Jeff Nichols ("Midnight Special") and Richard Linklater ("Everybody Wants Some!!") that both proved to be disappointments, and more niche-appeal films like "Miles Ahead" and younger-oriented "Green Room." Bleecker Street benefited from a lack of competition, so more of its potential audience gravitated to the movie, adding to its gross.
Things came together here. Skill in the making of the film (and its depiction of smart people at work as a team, sometimes in conflict, not unlike "Spotlight") and in its release led to mission accomplished.
By Anita Busch
Eye in the Sky — the drama about drone strikes — is so timely that distributor Bleecker Street is using President Barack Obama’s speech about the new technology as the voice-over for the film’s TV spot, which is debuting tonight during the Republican debate (watch it above). How? Insiders said the President’s speech is considered public domain now as it has been referred to and repeated so many times.
Eye in the Sky, one of the last films with the late Alan Rickman, will be released Friday, and the timing couldn’t have been more coincidental. The powerful film from director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi) and writer Guy Hibbert is a nail-biter as characters argue over the rules of engagement and the legality and morality of war in making a decision about a drone strike in Kenya that targets the Al-Shabaab militant group. The eOne Features film mirrors what happened just this week in Somalia, when the U.S. military killed 150 Islamist Al-Shabaab militants in strikes carried out in part by drones.
The film, also starring Helen Mirren and Barkhad Abdi, is one of the few movies —Fruitvale Station comes to mind — that allows the audience to come to know victims before tragedy strikes, giving high value to a single life; in this case, it’s a little girl selling bread who’s in danger of becoming “collateral damage.” However improbable, it pits the cold mind of the military establishment against the morality of (wait for it) politicians. Of course, it doesn’t take place in thiscountry. The commanders are properly British.
There have been other films that unwittingly imitated real life. For instance, after the 2012 Aurora theater massacre during the midnight showing of Warner Bros’ The Dark Knight Rises (where my cousin was murdered along with 11 others), the same studio was readying to release the period mob film Gangster Squad. In one of the scenes, mobsters killed people in a movie theater by shooting into the audience in the same way the shooter did in Aurora.
The studio pulled the film’s trailer, excised the scene and filmed new footage to replace that scene “out of respect for the families,” it said. In reality, it was doubtful a nation of moviegoers would have the stomach for it at the box office — especially releasing the film in a time period where there had been five mass shootings (Aurora, Oak Creek, Milwaukee, Clackamas and Newtown).
For Eye in the Sky, however, Bleecker Street also couldn’t be more surprised that life is imitating its art. The film has suddenly becomes a ripped-from-the-headlines story.
In 1997, then-President Clinton lodged a complaint with Warner Bros over the use of his press conference comments about a Mars meteorite being found “as one of the most stunning insights into our universe that science has ever uncovered.” The snippet was inserted into a scene in the Robert Zemeckis-directed Contact to make it look he was talking about messages from aliens. In that instance, however, the president was upset because his words were taken out of context.
In this case, the bits used for the TV spot are mainly pulled from Obama’s speech to the National Defense University about drone strikes and terrorism. Another part appears to be from a Military Academy speech, and the last one about the world we leave to our children is used in at least two speeches, one about drones and one about climate change.
Eye in the Sky was several years in the making and in one of its incarnations had Oliver Hirschbiegel on board to direct. The eOne and Raindog Films project eventually ended up with helmer Hood with Colin Firth (also a producer) attached to star. However, Firth ended up only producing, with the final incarnation starring Rickman. The highly suspenseful film premiered in Toronto to critical raves and a standing ovation. That led to a three-way bidding war that Bleecker Street won in a deal worth more than $2 million.
Bleecker Street is platforming the release this weekend, which is sure to receive a high CinemaScore and enjoy positive word-of-mouth to carry the film through to when it goes nationwide on April 1. It will get an international bow later this spring.
Eye in the Sky is also produced by Ged Doherty and David Lancaster (formerly of Bold Films)
by Pete Hammond
With the compelling and thrilling new drama Eye In The Sky, we finally have a drone movie worth cheering about. After last year’s rather lame Ethan Hawke attempt The Good Kill, which mixed a soap operatic subplot into a genuinely potentially interesting story on the human emotional toll taken on Las Vegas-based drone pilots, Oscar-winning South African director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi) and screenwriter Guy Hibbert have tacked the controversial subject head-on with a razor-sharp focus on one event that asks us to weigh the moral consequences of this new kind of modern warfare.
Defiantly not a war movie under the common definition of the genre, Eye in the Sky centers on a singular act and what its ramifications are in every term: political, moral, practical and, most of all, what it does to us simply as human beings who all inhabit the same planet. The plot, a rather simple one, centers on the quest of Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), a tough-as-nails British military officer whose command includes a covert (aren’t they all?) drone operation to snuff out a British citizen/terrorist on the run for six years in Kenya. That operation leads to the discovery of not only her target but also a suicide bombing mission about the take place at any moment.
This turns the op from a simple “capture” to an urgent order to “kill” with the use of the American drone surveillance. But just as it is about to be put into effect, a 9-year-old girl sets up shop selling loaves of bread right in the kill zone. Suddenly, with an innocent child in danger of becoming collateral damage, the drama is played out in board and command rooms across three continents — and for the Vegas-based drone pilot (Aaron Paul) with his first-ever “kill” order.
Rarely does a film so effectively and suspensefully spell out the price of war (really any war), and the strategic decisions that must be made in an instant. Do you take one innocent life to potentially save hundreds? That is the quandary at the center here, and I guarantee it will have you on the edge of your seat. Mirren, in a role originally written for a man, is simply superb, as is the late Alan Rickman as the general she reports to. Paul brings the real human element into focus as a young pilot with his hand on a trigger that could have grave consequences well beyond the push of a button. Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) is also excellent as a Nairobi spy who risks his own life in order to help target the enemy.
But it is Hood who brings this all together with the skill of a master craftsman, creating an almost Hitchcockian level of unending, nail-biting suspense in a picture that not only is enormously entertaining but also about as important and thought-provoking as they come. I saw it originally first thing in the morning just before its official opening at September’s Toronto Film Festival and immediately told any distributor I ran into that this was a film worth checking out. This is precisely the kind of movie adult audiences are craving, especially in the more barren spring months where typical Oscar contenders are not released. This should prove an exception to that rule.
Bleecker Street smartly bought the picture (from Entertainment One which co-produced the film iwth Raindog and handles several territories such as UK and Canada as well as International rights) out of Toronto for the U.S. and it looks like that decision will pay off as it has opened in L.A. and N.Y to encouraging early box office and great buzz. It will begin to widen more this weekend. Producers are Ged Doherty, Colin Firth and David Lancaster.
From The New York Times
By Stephen Holden
An alternative title to “Eye in the Sky,” a riveting thriller about drone warfare and its perils, might be “Passing the Buck.” When urgent life-or-death decisions are required in a race against time to kill terrorists preparing a suicide attack, officials, wary of being held responsible for civilian casualties, repeatedly “refer up” to higher authorities for final approval.
That means securing an official go-ahead to deploy a Hellfire missile on a house in a crowded neighborhood in Nairobi, Kenya, where terrorists are meeting. But the British foreign secretary is at an arms trade fair in Singapore and the American secretary of state is attending a table tennis tournament in Beijing. How inconvenient! Meanwhile, the military, champing at the bit to unleash its firepower before the terrorists disperse, are increasingly frustrated.
Helen Mirren, in one of her fiercest screen performances, plays Col. Katherine Powell, the chilly officer in charge of Egret, an operation to capture a radicalized English woman meeting with Shabab terrorists at the house in Nairobi. Colonel Powell has been pursuing her for years. But as the moment of capture arrives, Colonel Powell’s plans abruptly change when a cyborg beetle, a small whirring surveillance device, reveals two inhabitants strapping on explosives for a suicide mission.
The metallic spy, the movie’s creepiest element, reinforces the Orwellian notion that nowadays there are no hiding places if the powers-that-be are out to get you. The characters’ robotic techno argot, intended to convey military expertise while camouflaging human element, is equally Orwellian.
Colonel Powell quickly secures permission from her superior, Lt. Gen. Frank Benson (Alan Rickman), to upgrade the order from “capture” to “kill.” Those orders are relayed to Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), a drone pilot in Las Vegas poised to launch the air-to-surface missile. But unforeseen interruptions keep delaying the attack.
General Benson is Mr. Rickman’s final screen performance, and it is great one, suffused with a dyspeptic world-weary understanding of war and human nature. Because his character is observed early in the movie buying a doll for a child, he is not unsympathetic so much as profoundly sad. Ms. Mirren has rarely been icier, and her powerful, scary performance doesn’t strive to make her character likable.
“Eye in the Sky” covers many of the same issues addressed in “Good Kill,” Andrew Niccol’s underrated critique of American drone strikes in Afghanistan, released last year. At what point does warfare by remote control become an impersonal video game in which the human element is overlooked in the pursuit of a so-called “good kill”? In that movie, Ethan Hawke played a drone operator in Las Vegas increasingly sickened by having to deploy missiles that killed women and children. The movie reserved special contempt for the Central Intelligence Agency, whose attitude toward collateral damage was portrayed as one of indifference. Mr. Paul’s pilot, like Mr. Hawke’s in “Good Kill,” is the farthest thing from a blasé video-gamer eager to set off an explosion. At moments, he seems near tears.
Sharper, better made and better acted, “Eye in the Sky,” doesn’t present as overtly critical a view of drone warfare. The military officers take their work seriously and fret over every detail as they try to estimate the number of casualties for various scenarios.
The movie still makes very clear the contrast between military personnel who want to discharge their duties as efficiently as possible, and their more cautious overseers who calculate the chances that the attacks could spur a diplomatic crisis, or worse.
As in “Good Kill,” civilians keep intruding into the line of sight at the last second. Moments before the Nairobi attack is to begin, a spunky little girl (Aisha Takow) selling bread posts herself opposite the terrorists’ house, and nothing can be done until she leaves. A Somali undercover agent (Barkhad Abdi, from “Captain Phillips) is dispatched to buy up her loaves, but that assignment is interrupted.
An assistant of Colonel Powell is strongly pressured to estimate the chances of the girl’s being killed as less than 50 percent, in which case Colonel Powell can give the order to proceed. Another film might have found black comedy in the continuing “risk assessment” that accompanies each step of the operation. But “Eye in the Sky” allows the story’s absurdist elements to speak for themselves.
Mr. Rickman, musing in oracular tones, delivers the film’s despairing overview that pierces to the heart: “Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.”
“Eye in the Sky” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for violent images and strong language. Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes.
From New York Post
By Lou Lumenick
Would you sacrifice a cute 9-year-old-girl to save hundreds of people from a terrorist bombing? That’s the awful choice in “Eye in the Sky,’’ which works equally well as a nail-biting thriller, a dark political satire and a smart examination of the ethics of remote-control war.
Helen Mirren is terrific as Col. Powell, the tough commander of a multinational anti-terrorist task force that, after six years of searching, has finally located a radicalized Englishwoman (Lex King) most recently responsible for a horrific shopping-mall bombing in Nairobi.
With the support of the Kenyan government, there are plans to capture her alive with her American boyfriend, as well as another terrorist on the most-wanted list. But that changes when surveillance shows two Somali terrorists donning explosive vests in a safe house where the three are holed up.
Powell, with the support of Lt. Gen. Benson (the late Alan Rickman), proposes an unmanned-drone bombing strike on the safe house — much to the horror of senior British officials who nervously refer the new decision all the way up the chain of command to the prime minister.
While they’re waiting for the PM and the US president to give the go-ahead, the American drone “pilot’’ (Aaron Paul) who actually has to pull the trigger (from Nevada) notices that a little girl (Aisha Takow) has begun selling bread in the collateral-damage zone just outside the safe house.
Under 21st-century rules of engagement, he’s entitled to ask for a revised “risk assessment’’ — even as the British pols start calculating whether possible p.r. fallout if the girl is accidentally killed might outweigh the benefit of avoiding another terrorist attack with many casualties.
South African director Gavin Hood (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine’’) pulls off some really tricky tonal shifts. He’s abetted by a terrific cast, including Barkhad Abdi (Oscar nominated for “Captain Phillips’’) as a surveillance expert who tries to save the girl — and Rickman in his final on-screen appearance, one of his very best.
3 1/2 out of 4 stars