Why the Greek director’s tragicomic sensibility is perfect for the subject matter.
Not to be outdone by Netflix’s upcoming string of auteur dramas, Amazon Studios just announced that director Yorgos Lanthimos will be reteaming with The Lobster star Colin Farrell for an upcoming original series. The topic? The Iran-Contra Affair. For those of you (like me) who are too young to remember, the so-called Iran-Contra Affair was a scandal that occurred during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, in which administration officials conspired to sell weapons to Iran (against whom there was an arms embargo) in order to funnel the profits to a right-wing Nicaraguan army known as the Contras (to whom Congress had forbidden funding). The initial plan was to use said profits to negotiate the release of several hostages held by Hezbollah, but then Colonel Oliver North got involved and devised a plan to use the money to also fund the Contras. Farrell will be playing North.
If all of this sounds like an ill-conceived international screw-up, that’s because it was. Needless to say, the plot was soon discovered, leading to an investigation and eventual criminal charges for North. A series of televised hearings followed, which entranced the nation much like the Watergate hearings had years before. One need look no further than this brief clip of North from his hearing to get a sense of the role Farrell is tackling. Most of the charges were eventually dismissed for the former colonel, who now hosts a show on Fox News. Such is the tragicomic cycle of political theatre.
Thankfully for us, tragicomedy is Lanthimos’s specialty. The Greek director arrived on the international scene with 2009’s Dogtooth, but his English language debut, 2015’s The Lobster, solidified his place as one of cinema’s most unique, challenging, and hilarious voices. That film took place in a dystopian society in which single people are forced to find a mate within 45 days, lest they be turned into an animal. Lanthimos’s bizarre, brutal lens on the material captured perfectly the absurdity and agony of modern romance. To watch the film is to spend two hours caught between laughing, crying, and cringing. It’s what the truth feels like when laid uncomfortably, uncompromisingly bare.
Now, in collaboration with writers Enzo Mileti and Scott Wilson, Lanthimos is turning that incisive eye on the political sphere. Much as he used a dystopian future in The Lobster to comment on romance today, Lanthimos is now using the not-too-distant past to comment on contemporary politics. “Although based on relatively recent history,” he told Variety in a recent statement, “[the script] feels very fresh and relevant to our times.” Twenty years later, many of us remain glued to our television screens, watching hearings on Russian interference in the election or the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch ‐ laughing, crying, cringing.
Like romance, politics is often treated onscreen with a grandeur and artifice that few of us recognize in our day-to-day experience. Politics as we know it doesn’t resemble The West Wing any more than our love lives resemble La La Land. But what makes Lanthimos’s voice so well-suited to the subject is his ability to criticize sharply without falling into cynicism. Straight parodies like Oliver Stone’s W. or Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop expose the many ways government falls short of our expectations, but they fail to capture our genuine sadness in the face of unmet hopes. Though events like Iran-Contra provide ample fodder for satire, they also show how thoroughly, tragically human our politicians are. Lanthimos is the perfect filmmaker to capture this duality.
The new series will mark the Greek filmmaker’s third collaboration with Colin Farrell, who will next star alongside Nicole Kidman in Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Though known as brooding action star in films like S.W.A.T., The Recruit, and Total Recall, Farrell has come into his own as a master of perfectly pitched comedy, honed in his collaborations with Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) as well as in Horrible Bosses. The role of Oliver North falls somewhere between the extremes of Farrell’s past roles: a swaggering military man who falls into farcical error. The choice to cast Farrell in the role was, Lanthimos suggests, in part suggested by Ben Stiller and Nicky Weinstock, who will be executive producing the show for Red Hour Films. After starring in the disappointing sophomore season of True Detective, Farrell is sure to impress in his return to the small screen.
The script remains in development, so it’ll be a while before we get to enjoy this series. Thankfully, we’ll have another Farrell-Lanthimos film to hold us over in the meantime. And, of course, there’s always the news.