Wednesday, 17 January 2007


Film rights to Alan Cowell's SASHA'S STORY: The Life and Death of a Russian Spy have been snapped up by Johnny Depp's Infinitum Nihil producing alongside Warner Bros. Warners paid an unspecified sum

The movie about the death of Litvinenko, who was murdered in November after being slipped a fatal dose of polonium-210. has Depp on board to produce and possibly star.

Alan Cowell is the New York Times London bureau chief. He has been on the Litvinenko beat since the story broke just before Thanksgiving. He is expected to take a leave of absence from the Times to write about how the former secret agent for Russia's FSB—the successor to the Soviet Union's infamous KGB—became disenchanted with the Kremlin and turned into one of the country's most outspoken critics, living in the U.K., where he suffered a painful, baffling demise at the hands of unknown assassins.

But hot on Warners' heels is Sony's Columbia Pictures, which outbid Warners for the rights to a competing book about the headline-grabbing crime—possibly the most intriguing spy mystery since the end of the Cold War—for Michael Mann to adapt and helm.

The radiation poisoning, which Litvinenko blamed on Russian president Putin from his deathbed (an allegation fiercely denied by Moscow), triggered an ongoing probe by British counterterrorism officials that has spread to a handful of countries in Europe where traces of the polonium have been found.

Mann, who teamed with Columbia to snatch the film rights to Death of a Dissident, a book being written by Litvinenko's close friend and spokesman Alex Goldfarb and his widow, Marina Litvinenko. So don’t get that confused with the one written by Stuart M. Kaminsky. Columbia beat Warners, Universal and Paramount during an auction, paying $500,000 upfront and promising another $1.5 million once the production begins, based on little more than a four-page proposal and sample chapter.

Mann will write the screenplay for the real-life spy caper and is slated to direct and produce through his Forward Pass shingle in association with producers Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher at Red Wagon. Death of a Dissident is expected to focus heavily on Litvinenko's private life as well as his dealings with the increasingly powerful FSB, Putin's ascension to Kremlin boss and the sketchy interplay of Russian oligarchs and the country's mafia.

Other books on the case are also in the works. Random House is releasing Polonium, by Wall Street Journal scribe Steve LeVine (who was once reporting partners with the late Daniel Pearl in Pakistan) and Litvinenko's 2002 memoir, Blowing Up Russia: The Secret Plan to Bring Back KGB Terror, is slated to be reissued later this year.

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