Affleck and Damon’s erstwhile creative partnership has been rekindled as they tackle a doozy of a story.
Hollywood sure loves a good heist. Frankly, why wouldn’t it not when these movies can be the height of entertainment across all manner of genres and premises? The Ocean’s series comprises some very stylish capers on an earthly plane while those Star Wars anthologies take the job intergalactic.
Heists are fun in their versatility, plain and simple. However, the most inexplicably intriguing ones are rooted in real-life shenanigans that seem too outrageous to be true. There is nothing quite like a set of bizarre circumstances and a cast of unreadable characters to elevate the tenets of a crime movie.
Jeff Maysh’s article “McScam: How an Ex-Cop Rigged McDonald’s Monopoly Game and Stole Millions” was published on The Daily Beast not a week ago, and already studios have evidently been clamoring to make it the next big onscreen hit. According to Deadline, 20th Century Fox has come out the emerging winner in this hot bidding war that involved the likes of Universal, Warner Bros., and Netflix.
With this adaptation of Maysh’s feature story, Fox has also found some notable duos to spearhead the as-yet-untitled project. Firstly, in a huge ’90s throwback, life-long pals and old collaborators Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are reuniting! After separately making waves in the entertainment industry (both good and bad), the pair will join forces for the first time in over a decade to tackle this project. Affleck is reportedly attached as director while Damon is due to star in the picture.
Moreover, Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese — better known as the scribes behind both Deadpool films — apparently don’t need a break from their seriously perennially busy screenwriting schedule. They will be adding this McDonald’s Monopoly Game movie to their packed slate. And meanwhile, Maysh will serve as an executive producer on the film too, as noted by The Hollywood Reporter.
What exactly makes this particular heist story so weird that the film industry lapped it up so quickly? Well, Maysh’s detailed reporting unveiled such an extensive scheme of thievery that began from a seemingly innocuous place: the joint promotional campaign curated by McDonald’s and Hasbro.
First introduced in 1987, this McDonald’s sales promotion is based on the popular board game Monopoly, and used to reward loyal supporters of the Golden Arches with a variety of prizes ranging from food to cash. The rules of the game are simple. Certain orders of McDonald’s came with game pieces, which would correspond with properties on a traditional Monopoly board. Collecting the right combination of pieces formed groups of properties which could then be redeemed for prizes. In some cases, “Instant Win” game pieces would get you food items. But to win the grand prize of $1 million, the two most costly properties would have to be paired together.
Per Maysh’s piece, the FBI instigated Operation “Final Answer” in the early 2000s to take down an underground criminal ring that collectively defrauded McDonald’s out of $24 million in prize money using stolen game pieces. A person named “Uncle Jerry” was the brains behind the operation. He worked as the director of security for the firm that printed the game materials. Deadline notes that “Uncle Jerry” involved “mobsters, psychics, strip-club owners, drug traffickers, and a family of Mormons” in his conspiracy in order to keep the heist fully functional. His scheme would last several years before the FBI cracked down on him and his associates.
Maysh’s piece is fascinating, notable for its retelling of “Uncle Jerry’s” persona and rationale in a way that keeps the character virtually unknowable. We hear from ex-members of the ring he put together, and through the use of court documents, a timeline is established.
“Uncle Jerry” absolutely feels fictional in the article alone, and there is very little that needs spicing up in such an unusual story. There is actually something darkly funny in the spiraling circumstances outlined in Maysh’s feature, because while “Uncle Jerry” meets a variety of unseemly people to carry out his get-rich-quick scheme, there is much to be said about the cyclical and damaging nature of greed underpinning his motivations.
After featuring in eight movies together and even sharing an Academy Award win for their work co-writing Good Will Hunting, the odds are definitely in Affleck and Damon’s favor when it comes to successfully bringing this story to life on the big screen. We’ve been aware of their onscreen chemistry since their days riffing off one another in Good Will Hunting and Dogma. However, they’re clearly divvying up responsibilities for this particular project by sticking to what they really do best.
Damon is a natural leading man. Besides his talent for the dramatic that can be found in anything from the Bourne movies to Behind the Candelabra, the actor has appeared in many films with comparably odd premises to this one about the McDonald’s Monopoly Game. Last year was a big one for this, as he came out with Downsizing and Suburbicon — two films with underlying messages and themes wrapped up in eccentric plots and settings.
But when I think of this upcoming project, I specifically recall Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! as the quintessential “Strange Damon” performance to draw from. The film puts a truly eerily serious premise through some blackly comedic paces. For his part, Damon commands the screen by being deceptively ordinary, when his character is clearly anything but. Presuming he is starring as “Uncle Jerry” in this Maysh adaptation, Damon’s knack for the deceivingly mundane proves an asset.
When Affleck is at the helm of a feature, that’s when he shines. Out of all four of his directorial efforts thus far, he’s only really made one dud; Live By Night is a boring and empty experience, to say the least. At his peak, Affleck is skillful at weaving hard-hitting drama. There is a degree of self-seriousness in his work — as evidenced by the kind of conflict and anguish carried around by the characters in Gone Baby Gone and The Town — but he certainly balances that kind of deep sentiment with expert craftsmanship.
It’s a relief that Affleck is so good with actors as well. He grounds all of his movies in some great performances (even his own). He’s especially gifted with ensemble casts, which is particularly highlighted by Argo. The tension in that film wouldn’t have been half as substantial otherwise. Considering the broad nature of the McDonald’s Monopoly Game scandal, Affleck would need to tap into that same assured communal vision to see the film through.
As far as heist pictures go, this one sounds like it will be smooth sailing. Affleck and Damon are seasoned enough when it comes to moviemaking. They have the added advantage of their past successful collaborations to fall back on as well. But more importantly, Affleck and Damon (and Wernick and Reese) have a good story on their hands, and that kind of solid foundation is priceless.