Devil in the White City Seems Cursed in Hollywood

The Devil in the White City is a terrific piece of literary nonfiction, the kind that would, theoretically, make a no-brainer smash film, and a likely Academy Award contender at that. Erik Larson’s 2003 New York Times bestseller tells the parallel true stories of architect Daniel Burnham, who was instrumental to the building of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and depraved serial killer H.H. Holmes. With the two Chicago-set narratives intertwined, Devil in the White City offered a riveting story that appealed to true crime fanatics, history buffs, and casual audiences alike.

But the book’s journey to the screen (first silver, now small) has been longer and more cumbersome than building the World’s Fair itself. And it just added another chapter with the departure of Tár director Todd Field: Variety has reported that Field has left the book-turned-movie-turned-limited-series project, just a day after the news broke that the project’s star, Keanu Reeves, walked away.

Then, in 2019, Variety reported that the adaptation shifted from a feature film to a miniseries that DiCaprio and Scorsese would produce for Hulu. Sam Show, who created and wrote for Hulu’s Stephen King adaptation Castle Rock as well as WGN America’s 1940s period drama Manhattan, was pegged as the showrunner.

Reeves has the fourth John Wick film due out next year, and may direct an adaptation of the BRZRKR comic book he co-created. Field, meanwhile, is celebrating the release of Tár, a classical music drama starring Cate Blanchett that has earned tremendous critical praise. This isn’t Field’s first experience with a book adaptation that never got off the ground. A few years ago, he had been attached to Purity, a limited series with Daniel Craig that was based on the popular Jonathan Franzen book, but it never reached the filming stage.

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