Sean Penn and Heath Ledger in talks to star in Malick’s new movie

Hollywood Reporter writes that, two years after Terrence Malick’s fifth feature film Tree of Life was supposed to go into production with Colin Farrell and Mel Gibson starring, Sean Penn and Heath Ledger are now in talks to star, with River Road Entertainment (Brokeback Mountain, Into the Wild, Lust, Caution) producing. If all goes well, the filming will start in March.

Tree of Life sprang from a project Malick was working on in the late 1970s, called Q, which was reportedly going to combine drama set in World War I with a prehistoric sequence featuring a Minotaur sleeping in the water and dreaming about evolution of the universe from the Big Bang to the present day. The Minotaur scene originally just served as the prologue, but eventually took up life of its own and became the whole script. The project fell apart after a series of disagreements between Malick and Paramount in 1979, the year when the director left to France and stayed there for two decades.

Terrence Malick’s biography is quite a colourful one: born in 1943, he grew up in Oklahoma and Texas, majored in philosophy at Harvard, took up Latin American studies at Oxford, met Heidegger (father of existentialism, grandpa of postmodernism and deconstruction) in Germany and even translated his Essence of Reason, later worked as a journalist for a while and finally ventured into cinema in the late 1960s. While his first feature Badlands, starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek and loosely based on the story of the homicidal young couple Charles Starkweather and Caril-Ann Fugate (who also inspired Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers) was an excellent debut, it was his second film, Days of Heaven (Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shephard) that got him wide acclaim. The movie set entirely new standards for cinematography, winning Nestor Almendros an Oscar and earning Malick the artistic label he would cement 20 years later with The Thin Red Line, a film that leaned heavily on cinematography to carry the essence of the war drama, offering one of those rare moments in cinema that makes you re-evaluate your own grasp of the potential of film as a medium.

The original cut of the movie was almost six hours long. It took Malick seven months to produce the first theatrical cut and three more months of editing to come up with the final one. The process left some big names – Gary Oldman, Mickey Rourke, Viggo Mortensen, many of Adrien Brody’s scenes and narration by Billy Bob Thornton – on the cutting room floor.

Malick’s last release, The New World, with Colin Farrell, Q’Orianka Kilcher and Christian Bale, came out in 2005. Shot almost entirely in natural light, the film is a lyrical, unusual take on the story of John Smith and Pocahontas.

The director himself was last spotted at the Rome Film Festival earlier this month. Let’s hope the new round of talks finally brings some concrete results.

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