There is movement at last on the long-gestating adaptation of Erik Larson’s book, The Devil in the White City, produced by Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. This is, indeed, GREAT news to kick off 2022, as true crime aficionados have been waiting for this adaptation since DiCaprio acquired the book rights in 2010. And it’s not just any news, it is the news that KEANU REEVES is in talks to star in what will be a prestige limited series for Hulu. (It will not be his first foray into television, as he has a recurring role on Peter Stormare’s comedy series, Swedish Dicks.) It’s not clear who he is in talks to play, but the primary figures in the book are architect Daniel Burnham and serial killer H.H. Holmes. I can kinda sorta see Keanu in either role, although, honestly, he’s not really the first name that leaps to mind when I think “historical epic serial killer story”.
Is some of that the fault of Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Of course. That movie is disastrously entertaining for numerous reasons, but one of the biggest is Keanu’s way left-of-center performance as Jonathan Harker. It’s also a little bit Little Buddha, A Walk in the Clouds, 47 Ronin, and Much Ado About Nothing. I don’t even dislike Keanu’s performance in any of those movies—I will defend his louche take on Don John—but he sticks out like a sore thumb in period pieces. Even 47 Ronin, which is an action movie at heart, can’t quite overcome the modernity of Keanu’s face. For all that he’s ageless, he’s not timeless. He’s very much Of Now, or Of Next, he isn’t convincingly Of Then.
But he HAS credibly played creeps in more recent work like The Neon Demon and The Bad Batch, so there’s a streak of rarely-exploited darkness there that could work for Holmes. And Keanu’s famously tireless work ethic in real life could be funneled into a performance as a fastidious, ambitious architect like Burnham. It’s not that I can’t see it at all, it’s just that, as much as I love Keanu, I’m going to need a little convincing to buy him in a period piece.
The main takeaway, though, is that after more than a decade of development, The Devil in the White City might actually happen soon. Todd Field is on board to direct the first two episodes, and they’re finally talking to actors to fill the cast. Even if it doesn’t work out with Keanu—a lot of people talk to him, not every deal closes, so I’m not holding my breath—at least it’s HAPPENING. I was starting to doubt we would ever actually see it.