(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week’s column offers up a primer on the varied complications that arise when you attempt to overthrow the government.)
The United States just celebrated this year’s Fourth of July holiday, and for many it’s a day off from work and for others it’s an excuse to placate their inner pyromaniac, but the historical backdrop involves one of the world’s most important coup d’état… of sorts. Obviously those of us in the US view it as a fight for independence, and sure, the Revolutionary War wasn’t technically a coup d’état as the Americans didn’t seek to overthrow and replace the British government, but they did act with the express purpose of unseating those in power here in what would become the US.
Is it semantics? Maybe. But it’s enough of a reason to jump-start this week’s look at underseen movies about coups d’état both successful and attempted. Some of the best known include John Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May (1964), the Tom Cruise-starring Valkyrie (2008), and Costa-Gavras’ heartbreaking and true Missing (1982). One of my personal favorites is 2015’s No Escape which takes an entertainingly Cannon Films-like approach to its near xenophobia and over-the-top violence. You know the drill by now, though, meaning that while those are the popular ones we’re here to talk about ones far less appreciated.
Keep reading for a look at the best movies you’ve never seen about coups d’état!
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Rumor has it that Paul Thomas Anderson‘s follow-up to There Will Be Blood might be an adaption of Peter Bart‘s novella Power Play, which Paramount acquired in 1998 for producer Robert Evans to develop. Anderson’s official fan site cigarettes and redvines has now even picked up the rumor, which I heard from a source last week. Let me be completely clear: I have not gotten any official or even unofficial word that this is actually Anderson’s next project (ie for now take it for what it is – a rumor), but it does seem to have a history of truth.
The story follows a forward thinking Native American casino owner who decides to take on Las Vegas, and enters into a power struggle between established casino owners. When the project was first announced, Evans named Anderson as director and Jack Nicholson as a potential star.
“I’ve got P.T. Anderson very excited about adapting and directing it. Before he directed Boogie Nights, he covered the gambling terrain very convincingly with Hard Eight. I’m also giving it to Jack Nicholson, who is perfect for the main role,” Evans told Variety in 1998. “It’s an extraordinary story. The largest gambling entrepreneurs are not Trump or Wynn or Kerkorian — they’re the Indians. They operate the most profitable casinos in the world and most are not even full-blooded Indians — they can be one-eighth and still control the tribe, the land and the casino. If they made the worst deal in selling Manhattan for $24, they’re making up for it with a weapon more lethal than bows and arrows.”
It is impossible to write a story about this project without noting that the sale of Power Play was the subject to huge controversy in the late 90’s. Bart was accused of creating the 86-page novella in order to circumvent rules which prevent Variety reporters from being seduced by Hollywood while covering the beat. Basically, the idea was that Bart wrote a book to sell a screenplay. In 1998 Variety reported that Michelle Manning at Paramount Pictures had acquired the rights to the novel written by Bart, which was submitted under “a pseudonym to avoid any potential conflict of interest.”
A screenplay was later discovered with authorial credit to Leslie Cox (the maiden name of Bart’s wife), “Based on the novel by Peter Bart” and dated September 1996, two years before the sale of the book. The whole situation smelled like fish. Basically, Bart at one point ran Paramount with Evans, and writing a script certainly seemed like a conflict of interest. As is the whole idea of the trades if you ask me: Something like 90% of advertisements in trade papers like Variety come from the same industry they intend to cover. But I digress. Bart was suspended after Amy Wallace wrote about the incident in Los Angeles Magazine (you can read about the incident on Slate.com).