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Patty Hearst Drama Coming from James Mangold and Elle Fanning

The prolific director will next tackle one of the most sensationalized true crime sagas.
By  · Published on December 7th, 2017

The prolific director will next tackle one of the most sensationalized true crime sagas.

Patty Hearst‘s story has found its director in James Mangold. Variety reports that the Logan director has signed on to helm the project with Elle Fanning in talks to star.

The film is as yet untitled, and will draw from Jeffrey Toobin’s true crime book, “American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst.” The highly sensationalized event surrounds how Hearst, then a 19-year-old student, was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army and re-emerged as a member of the terrorist group.

The Amazon description “American Heiress” speaks to the true extent of the intense fervor surrounding the Hearst case. These are elements of a real-life case but they feel thoroughly fictional. To name a few: “the Hearst family trying to secure Patty’s release by feeding all the people of Oakland and San Francisco for free…a cast of characters including everyone from Bill Walton to the Black Panthers to Ronald Reagan to F. Lee Bailey…and [Hearst’s] circuslike trial, filled with theatrical courtroom confrontations and a dramatic last-minute reversal, after which the term “Stockholm syndrome” entered the lexicon.”

Mangold, Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander took up scripting duties for this adaptation of “American Heiress.” In a book that chronicles the biggest police shoot-out in history and the first breaking news live television broadcast in America, there seems to be a lot on the team’s plate in terms of adapting just the right amount of it all to fit into a cohesive film. Official word about the film at least seems a little more streamlined, with Variety reporting that the film will explore “Hearst’s capture and two-year detainment by the Symbionese Liberation Army in the mid-1970’s, as well as her transition from hostage to warrior.”

Furthermore, if Fanning officially signs on to play Hearst, that will most likely be one less thing to worry about. Fanning continues to gain traction after working with high profile directors over the course of the last few years.

An “American Heiress” adaptation definitely adds to the true crime obsession the industry is experiencing in a post-People v. O. J. Simpson world. But as with all film and TV trends, we’re left wondering what else is there to mine beyond a fixation with all kinds of extremism. A logline that references “the audacious, kaleidoscopic and psychologically twisted story of a true-life Alice in Wonderland” feels a tad flippant when dealing with so many moving parts in a cultural conversation — including claims from Hearst herself that she was brainwashed and abused during her time with the SLA. Mangold certainly has the chops to tackle seriously affecting drama, but it feels like he hasn’t handled something quite like this before.

Hearst’s story has gone through developmental blips in the past. Whether CBS’s own Hearst limited series is still in the works is a mystery, but it was announced to be going forward last year. Mangold’s version of the story will definitively be his next project, even though he’s signed on to direct a whole slew of high profile films. He is slated to helm adaptations of Dan Winslow’s novel “The Force,” as well as Katherine Applegate’s children’s book “Crenshaw.”

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)