Pitt to headline WWII epic

Twentieth Century Fox is in final negotiations to handle domestic distribution of Joel and Ethan Coen’s next feature, an adaptation of the 1993 James Dickey novel “To the White Sea,” which will star Brad Pitt.

Production on the largely dialogue-free war drama, budgeted at about $50 million, is slated to begin Jan. 14.

WWII-set “Sea,” written by the Coen brothers with a first draft by David Webb Peoples (“Unforgiven”), follows a B-29 gunner shot down during a bombing mission over Tokyo. The gunner (Pitt), during peacetime a hunter in Alaska, is forced to parachute into enemy territory. When he heads for Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, he begins a violent odyssey that climaxes in the frozen landscape.

The film’s silence stems from the fact that the film is largely set in the wilderness and Pitt’s character — who does not speak Japanese — views those he meets during his journey as enemies who must be killed.

With “Sea,” Pitt’s dance card is filled for the foreseeable future. This fall, he will begin production on Darren Aronofsky’s untitled sci-fi thriller for Warner Bros. Pictures. In January, he will break from that production to begin shooting “Sea” in Japan. Upon completion of the Coens’ picture, he will return to finish work on Aronofsky’s film.

Fox and producer Jeremy Thomas originally began discussions about co-financing the pic nearly two years ago (Daily Variety, Oct. 18, 1999), but those talks fell apart and were only recently rekindled.

A Fox spokeswoman said the studio had no comment.

Pic will be produced by the Coens with Richard Roth and Thomas, whose HanWay Films is handling the pic’s foreign sales.

“Sea” has a long development history, having been originally set up at Universal Pictures in 1993 when the studio bought the book for Roth prior to its publication.

The Coens’ most recent film, “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” is slated for release through USA Films Nov. 9. They are repped by UTA. Pitt is repped by CAA and Basic Entertainment.

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