Leonardo DiCaprio Might Get Super Serious Again for The Cartel

By  · Published on July 24th, 2015

Warner Bros.

If you’re a fan of Ridley Scott’s The Counselor, then boy do we have some good news for you: he’s making another film set in the world of drugs. Obviously that sentence only excites a handful of Scott devotees – which is nuts because that Cormac McCarthy-penned picture is far more ambitious and engaging than most of the director’s recent work – but for those who loathe the rambling, mean-spirited nature of The Counselor shouldn’t worry about a repeat with his latest project. According to The Hollywood Reporter, after a huge bidding war this week, Scott is set to direct an adaptation of Don Winslow’s “The Cartel,” an incredible and truly epic novel.

Fox paid over $6m for the screenwriting fees and to acquire the book rights for the novel and its predecessor, “The Power of the Dog.” Both novels tell the story of Art Keller, a D.E.A. agent, and the man he devotes his life to hunting down, Adán Barrera, the head of a drug cartel. Both books are ensemble pieces, where most of the side characters support those two men’s stories. Based on this news, it’s obvious that the plan is to focus primarily on Keller and Barrera’s relationship – which is about the line between revenge and justice, obsession and duty and more.

Art Keller is a conflicted and haunted character, which makes him perfect for the actor Scott and Fox are courting: Leonardo DiCaprio. The movie star’s own company, Appian Way, had a hand in the bidding war, so he must be interested in the material. On top of that, DiCaprio has been linked for years to another Winslow adaptation, Satori. The last adaptation of the author’s work was Oliver Stone’s Savages, a divisive film that did a pretty good job of capturing the voice of Winslow’s novel, which is almost completely different from his approach to “The Cartel.” The co-writer of Stone’s film, Shane Salerno, is now also writing this adaptation.

Art Keller is right up DiCaprio’s alley. The role is deadly serious, and as mentioned bares the hallmark of most of the actor’s finest performances, a tortured soul. What was so captivating about the actor’s work between 2012–2013 is that he completely railed against his image. Django Unchained, The Wolf of Wall Street and The Great Gatsby showed us a new side of DiCaprio, one where he’s actually smiling and seeming to have a good time. That’s not a knock against his more dramatic roles, but it was a refreshing change of pace for DiCaprio, who has spent a lot of time brooding in his career.

Almost two years ago it was announced he would play Woodrow Wilson. The star and producer is talented enough to pull that off, of course, but how many actors have done so many bio films in recent memory? There’s J. Edgar, The Aviator, The Wolf of Wall Street, Catch Me If You Can and the list goes on. Sometimes when people joke about DiCaprio never winning the Oscar, it’s partly because he’s done a lot of films that have awards potential written all over them. These projects aren’t desperate grabs for an Oscar, but since he’s clearly a performer driven more by drama than big spectacle, he often treads familiar territory, the serious kind. In that regard, though, DiCaprio is an incredibly lucky actor.

How many actors have the career he’s built for himself? DiCaprio’s hits are The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Gatsby, Inception, The Departed, Django Unchained and Shutter Island, and none of these are tentpole movies. In fact, he hasn’t starred in a single tentpole film all throughout his career, and he’s managed to maintain an insane level of stardom and creative freedom for well over a decade now. No other actor in today’s climate has this career. There’s probably a reason why his name is never included on short lists for superhero movies, that he’s made a decision to keep away from tights and capes. If DiCaprio wanted to star in a superhero movie, all he’d have to do is snap his fingers, but instead he gravitates towards material like The Revenant or, possibly, The Cartel.

The actor didn’t do his best work in his first collaboration with Scott, Body of Lies, a decent thriller with fine performances from a well-paired DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. This time around, the material is much meatier. The hope for The Cartel is to make a film in the vein of The Godfather, a sprawling and brutal crime story. With “The Power of the Dog” and “The Cartel,” there’s enough on the page to make three or more films, but it makes sense Fox & Co. plan on beginning with the sequel, “The Cartel,” since it’s a more modern story. Scott’s eye for atmosphere, scope, and violence fits The Cartel, and based on DiCaprio’s past, he could nail the role of Art Keller in his sleep.

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Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.