Non-fiction Weekend - What If? The Pentagon Papers

Daniel Ellsberg

Steve Taylor-Bryant's obsession with Daniel Ellsberg knows no bounds. He is now recreating the TV movie as a Hollywood blockbuster. What if? The Pentagon Papers...

During my review of 2003's television movie about Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers I remarked at how much I'd enjoyed it especially for its casting but that it suffered from cheap production values, television run time, and the fact you had to be American, Icelandic or Italian to have seen it (maybe a slight exaggeration but it didn't play in many countries). The thing is it's an important bloody part of world history, its implications are still seen today with Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning who Ellsberg is a great supporter of, and with Oliver Stone's biopic of NSA leaker Edward Snowden the world is once again ready for the story that embarrassed five administrations and the tail end of which was part of the Watergate era that brought down Nixon. We need to banish the 1.32 runtime and cheap television feel and go big and Hollywood with this one like Stone is doing with Snowden. So here's my imagined remake...


I'll get to the part of Ellsberg shortly but enough of the TV movie cast impressed me that I'm bringing three of them back albeit it in slightly different roles. Alan Arkin was wonderful and Emmy nominated for his portrayal of Rand Corp head Harry Rowen so I'm going to award Arkin a promotion. Please welcome the new and improved Senator J. William Fulbright, who is essential in the timeline of The Pentagon Papers and only got about 2 minutes of screen time in the original.


Giamatti also makes a comeback but again in a different role. His part of Anthony Russo, whilst essential as part of Ellsberg's history, was magnificent but again too short for an actor of his talent and stature. Giamatti most recently has impressed me as a government official in Billions where he plays U.S Attorney Chuck Rhoads and its government I think he should be in again, playing John McNaughton the United States Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs who Ellsberg worked for in the Pentagon and was a close adviser to Secratary of Defence Robert McNamara who originally commissioned the "Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force" which is the actual title of what is known as The Pentagon Papers.


James Spader himself is also getting a promotion of sorts. He was extraordinary as Daniel Ellsberg in the 2003 version and whilst he couldn't play Ellsberg this time around I still want him included and in a part that vital to the story. Harry Rowen. Rowen was the head of the Rand Corp, an independent think tank that was part of the team included in many of the behind the scenes planning of Vietnam over the years. Ellsberg actually wrote part of the report that he leaked and it was thanks to Rowen that he ever got hold of it with Rowen getting a copy of the 47 Top Secret volumes brought to Rand for Ellsberg to read in the first place.


Anthony Russo was a really smart guy. He was an ex NASA engineer who became a researcher and confident of Ellsberg at Rand Corp before becoming an anti war activist and co defendant with Ellsberg on espionage, theft, and conspiracy charges for his part in The Pentagon Papers leak. I like the sidekick role, and I don't mean that in a belittling way. Russo was a great friend and helper of Ellsberg even standing trial with him but it'll always be Ellsberg remembered and I'm casting as such. Paul Bettany is a favourite of mine, he's superb in most things but excels when he his second billing. Transcendence to Johnny Depp, A Beautiful Mind to Russell Crowe, the list is endless of Bettany roles that are superb because he's not the main guy.


That main guy is Daniel Ellsberg. The man of the hour. The man who went from military service and war supporter and planner to the worlds biggest secrets leaker. Ellsberg was the man who had the ear of the likes of Bobby Kennedy and Henry Kissinger and yet turned against his government when they wouldn't listen and leaked the lies of his bosses to the media. This is the man that played a part in the first ever occasion the government stopped a newspaper from being allowed to publish a story, eventually overturned by the Court of Appeal, and whose actions incensed President Nixon so much he authorised the break in of Ellsberg's doctors office to try and get dirt on Ellsberg by his "plumbers" and leading to his own eventual demise. You need an actor that can maybe handle the earlier wartime action but that comes across with more liberal leanings in the end as his crusades to stop the war. Step forward Mark Ruffalo. Has the look, endless range and ability, and sells you a story with every non-Hulk role he takes. Plus he works well with Spotlight team's Tom McCarthy who will direct my Pentagon Papers remake, and writer Josh Singer who is going to bring the facts and story to life.

Image - IMDb/Wikipedia.

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