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John Hillcoat‘s adaptation of the Matt Bondurant novel The Wettest County in the World isn’t happening yet. It was set up at Columbia for some time, but put into turnaround by the studio. Now producers Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher (who did Jarhead and Memoirs of a Geisha and are working on Nicolas Winding Refn’s Jekyll at Universal) are trying to make the film work as an indie. Because there is interest from a bevy of young stars (including, ahem, Shia LaBeouf) it might actually happen.

The Wettest County in the World sounds like a fantastic story and a perfect project for Hillcoat. It’s based on the story of Bondurant’s own grandfather and great-uncles, who ran a depression-era moonshine/bootlegging business. There’s also a parallel thread, where a reporter is tracking the gang and reporting on bootlegging while researching a novel. The Publisher’s Weekly synopsis gives a few more details and makes the whole shebang sound like quite a nice little concoction:

In 1928, a pair of thieves accost Bondurant’s real life great-uncle Forrest at his Franklin County, Va., restaurant. They’re after a large cache of bootlegging money and end up cutting Forrest’s throat. The story of his survival and his trek to a hospital 12 miles away has taken on mythical proportions by the time Sherwood Anderson arrives in Franklin County in 1934 to research a magazine piece on the area’s prolific moonshiners. Soon after Anderson’s arrival, two anonymous men appear at the same hospital, one with legs meticulously shattered from ankle to hip, the other one castrated, with the by-products of the deed deposited in a jar of moonshine. The arc of the story lies between the attack on Forrest and that on the two men.

With material like that and a director like Hillcoat, is it any wonder that a host of talent is interested in taking a swig? THR reports that LaBeouf, Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Gosling‘s names have all been thrown around in conjunction with the film, and that Paul Dano and Michael Shannon are also said to be interested. Not hard to see how almost all of those folks could be great in a story like this. Granted, none of these people are attached, much less signed. But this producing team isn’t exactly a Mickey Mouse operation, and while they could throw around a bunch of young names to drum up interest, it seems unlikely that they’d do so without justification.

Regardless, this film isn’t necessarily Hillcoat’s next. He has a handful of possible pictures lined up, as we reported recently. Given the fact that this one was in turnaround, it was previously looking low-priority. But if The Road picks up a bit more critical momentum and more talent gets interested in Wettest County, priorities could change and we might see this bootlegging run sooner rather than later.

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