Mike Fleming

BREAKING: Universal has reemerged as the financier of Contraband, the English language remake of the 2008 Icelandic film Reykjavic-Rotterdam. Mark Wahlberg is set to star, Kate Beckinsale is negotiating, and Baltasar Kormakur is set to direct. Kormakur starred in, produced and co-wrote the original. Working Title partners Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner are producing with Wahlberg (who’s next out in The Fighter), Stephen Levinson and Kormakur. Verve-repped Aaron Guzikowski is writing the script.

Oskar Jonasson directed the original, in which Kormakur played a former smuggler trying to go straight as a night guard. When his wife’s brother (who got him the job) botches a smuggling run, his life threatened and the protagonist is dragged in for one more job. WME, which reps the stars and Kormakur, set up the remake at Working Title. Bevan and Fellner’s deal is at Universal, and the studio originally intended to finance the film, then passed when the budget came in at $40 million. Relativity Media stepped in, but encouraged the filmmakers to try bringing down the cost. The filmmakers brought the budget down to around $30 million. A $30 million drama with Wahlberg and Beckinsale is a package any studio would jump at. When Relativity blinked, Universal swooped back in.

More and more mid-budget dramas that make it to the screen do so because they roll with the punches. This is the second such effort for Wahlberg and Levinson, the guys behind Entourage and Boardwalk Empire who also kept the flame burning on The Fighter, along with producers David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman. That  film survived the exits of director Darren Aronofsky, and Matt Damon (twice) and Brad Pitt as Wahlberg’s co-star, before David O Russell settled in as director and Christian Bale took the role of Dickie Eklund. Eklund is the storied Boston fighter who lost his ring career to drug addiction but pulled himself together to train his half-brother, “Irish” Mickey Ward, to several titles and three classic bouts with Arturo Gatti. While The Fighter was staggered several times by setbacks and seemed down for the count once or twice,  Wahlberg diligently continued to train in the boxing ring every morning to play Ward. In the footage previewed on last night’s Mad Men finale (and on Deadline Hollywood), all that training paid off. To me, Wahlberg looked convincing in the ring. Is it too soon to make comparisons to Denzel Washington in The Hurricane, Daniel Day-Lewis in The Boxer, Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man, and Carl Weathers and Sylvester Stallone in the original Rocky?