Ben Wheatley is the closest thing this generation has to a Ken Russell. Time and again, the flamboyant British filmmaker has refused to remain in a defined genre box. Compare Kill List to High-Rise; Down Terrace to Sightseers; A Field in England to anything ever made. They’re all unified by a surrealist vision, while still remaining singular within the writer/director’s body of work. However, Wheatley has also shown that he can operate within a confined system, having toned his idiosyncratic sensibilities down in order to helm episodes of Doctor Who. His name elicits a near Pavlovian response from his cult of admirers (not to mention he’s a Fantastic Fest staple), and it seemed like only a matter of time before Wheatley would make the big studio jump. All we could hope was that some franchise house wouldn’t snatch him up and dilute the crazy in his voice; though, like Russell, enfeeblement seemed like impossibility on even the grandest stage.
Well, we all could be finding out what a big budget Ben Wheatley picture looks like in the near future, as Deadline’s reporting that he’s circling an adaptation of Frank Miller and Geof Darrow’s positively insane comic Hard Boiled for Warner Bros. In case you have no idea what Hard Boiled is (though I highly doubt our erudite readership is unfamiliar with this particular mind-fuck), the three-issue series debuted in 1990 and follows an insurance investigator navigating dystopian Los Angeles. Turns out the claims dick is also a cyborg tax collector/corporate assassin, whose sleepy, idyllic life is disrupted upon discovering he’s his fellow robots’ only hope to achieve freedom from programmed slavery. Ostensibly the perfect project for Paul Verhoeven (whom this writer always pegged as being the ideal director for the property), it’s a relentless, ultra-violent tale that seems unadaptable on the page.
Further sweetening the deal is the fact that Wheatley is reportedly developing the story as a starring vehicle for High-Rise star Tom Hiddleston (who also played a comic book character once, I think). There’s so much to get excited about here that it’s hard to even know where to begin. First off, Wheatley’s potentially being given a lot of money to make a picture that should probably never be attempted (even David Fincher tried and failed to bring Hard Boiled to the big screen). Secondly, he’s doing so for a studio that historically allows their filmmakers to retain their personal voices even when operating within a franchise (great example: Harry Potter; bad example: The DCU). Sure, there are going to be the usual worries about content/ratings restrictions, but right now this is news that needs to be celebrated. Ben Wheatley could be coming to Hollywood, and he seems to be bringing his penchant for anti-reality along with him. In the meantime, go see Free Fire once A24 drops it on March 17.