Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Brad Pitt is circling the title role in Warner BrosPontius Pilate, the drama about one of history’s most vilified figures. The studio acquired a script by Woman On Top scribe Vera Blasi with Mark Johnson producing through his Gran Via banner. Pitt is not committed, but it could well move that way quickly.

I revealed this project last summer, when the studio acquired Blasi’s script. I got hold of a draft and it’s very strong stuff and has the makings of a compelling period big budget film. This script follows the evolution of Lucius Pontius Pilate from the sensitive son of a Roman Knight into a ferocious soldier whose warrior exploits make him a general and puts him on a political track under the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Promised a military governorship in Egypt, Pilate is instead assigned by Tiberius to become the prefect of Judea, at a time when Jerusalem was a cauldron of religious tensions between various factions of the Jewish faith. Pilate veers from the political fast track into the express lane to hell and historical infamy. Rather than a straight ahead Biblical film, Blasi’s script reads almost like a Biblical era Twilight Zone episode in which a proud, capable Roman soldier gets in way over his head. His arrogance and inability to grasp the devoutness of the citizenry and its hatred for the Roman occupiers and their pagan gods leads him to make catastrophic decisions. All of this puts him in a desperate situation and in need of public approval when he is asked to decide the fate of a 33-year old rabbi accused by religious elders of claiming he is King of the Jews. Along the way, such Roman emperors including Caligula and Tiberius and New Testament figures like John the Baptist, Salome and Mary Magdalene are seen in a tale that culminates with Pilate’s fateful decision to allow Jesus Christ to be crucified.

It is hard to put a new spin on the Greatest Story Ever Told, but the script had the twists and unexpected turns that satisfyingly combine history, political maneuvering and storytelling inventions reminiscent of such films as Braveheart and Gladiator. Blasi has also taken the care to explain the motivations of religious leaders like the Jewish high priest Caiaphas (who engineers Christ’s demise) as these leaders tried to bring varying religious sects under one roof, and the script doesn’t have the polarizing chill some felt in The Passion Of The Christ.

Pitt has a busy dance card of films he has completed. They include the Marc Forster-directed zombie extravaganza World War Z, the Steve McQueen-directed Twelve Years A Slave, and the Ridley Scott-directed The Counselor, the latter of which was scripted by Cormac McCarthy. He’s repped by CAA and Brillstein.

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