Liam Neeson is starring in a movie adaptation of the political thriller novel Charlie Johnson in the Flames. The film is one of several noteworthy projects that will be available for potential distributors to bid on at the Cannes Film Festival starting next week. It joins Jake Gyllenhaal’s Leonard Bernstein biopic The American and Jessica Chastain’s all-female spy adventure 355 on the list of high-profile movies that are up for the bidding at this year’s Cannes event.
The book Charlie Johnson in the Flames was written by former Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff (his second published novel) and was released in Fall 2003. Ignatieff’s book follows American journalist Charlie Johnson as he travels to the Balkans to cover the wartime violence there, only to witness the horrific death of an innocent woman at the hands of a Serbian officer. As Johnson attempts to wrestle with what he saw, he sets out to expose the truth and winds up ensnared in a web of corruption and murder that leaves him questioning everything he thought he believed.
According to Deadline, the Charlie Johnson movie will change things up by making the titular character (Neeson) a BBC correspondent who witnesses the death of a woman while covering an ongoing civil war in the Congo. 30WEST (I, Tonya) is financing the film, though so far Neeson is the only cast member onboard. The adapted Charlie Johnson script was written by Justin Haythe and has Swedish director Tarik Saleh attached to direct.
Saleh previously won the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema – Dramatic for his crime thriller The Nile Hilton Incident at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. More recently, he made the jump to cable television and directed an episode of Westworld season 2 (one which has not yet aired). Haythe, for his part, has written several different genre films over that last decade; including, a period drama (Revolutionary Road), a modern action/drama (Snitch ), an offbeat western (The Lone Ranger), a horror/thriller by way of dark fairy tale (A Cure for Wellness), and most recently Jennifer Lawrence’s spy thriller Red Sparrow.
While Neeson quickly went back on his “retirement” from action movies last year, Charlie Johnson appears to be part of the actor’s larger effort to leave his days of punching lawbreakers and terrorists behind him. Along with Saleh’s dramatic thriller, Neeson’s upcoming projects include 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen’s heist drama/thriller Widows, the Coen Brothers’ Netflix western series The Ballard of Buster Scruggs , and the romantic drama Normal People (costarring Phantom Thread‘s Lesley Manville). That doesn’t mean Neeson will never use his particular set of skills again, but for the time being it seems he’s focusing on movies and TV shows that don’t require him to slap evil-doers silly.