'Donnie Darko' director to write and direct indie 'Amicus'

EXCLUSIVE: Writer-director Richard Kelly (“Donnie Darko”) has lined up his next movie, a true-crime thriller titled “Amicus” that will star Nicolas Cage as Rodney Smolla, one of the most influential First Amendment scholars of the past two decades.

In addition to writing and directing, Kelly will produce through his Darko Entertainment along with Laura Bickford (“Traffic”) and Mike Nilon, who reps Cage. Darko’s Ted Hamm will exec produce with Will Kopelman.

CAA is handling the sales and packaging of the film, and financing is being secured for a January start date in Atlanta.

Spanning 25 years, indie pic is based on the true story of Lawrence Horn, a former record producer and Motown Records exec who is currently serving a life sentence in prison for hiring Detroit-based hit man James Perry to murder his wife, quadriplegic son and the wealthy family’s overnight nurse at their suburban home in Silver Spring, Maryland. Horn’s son was the victim of medical malpractice and as the result of a subsequent lawsuit, had a trust worth nearly $2 million, which his father stood to inherit in the wake of his death.

Detectives discovered that Perry, who was sentenced to death in 1995 for the brutal crime, used how-to book “Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors” as a guide to execute the murders. The families of the victims went on to file a class-action lawsuit against the Colorado-based publisher Paladin Press.

The attorneys representing the families then hired Smolla, a First Amendment attorney and professor at William & Mary Law School, to consult on the historic case, which took five years to settle amidst a series of shocking and bizarre developments.

Kelly’s next film had been expected to be the contemporary thriller “Corpus Christi” for his Darko Entertainment banner, though the cast never came together and the project remains in development. “Amicus” represents a change of pace from the sci-fi-tinged pics Kelly previously directed, which include “Donnie Darko,” “Southland Tales” and “The Box.” He’s repped by CAA and manager Jennifer Killoran.

Despite appearing in more than 50 movies, Cage has never played a lawyer, though he did produce the 2003 legal drama “The Life of David Gale,” and he also starred in Alex Proyas’ 2009 pic “Knowing,” which Kelly had once been attached to direct. Cage, who can currently be seen in Simon West’s actioner “Stolen,” will next star opposite John Cusack in Emmett/Furla Films’ serial killer thriller “Frozen Ground.” He’s repped by CAA, KLWGN Entertainment and attorney Jacob A. Bloom.

After earning an Oscar nomination for producing Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic” with Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, Bickford reteamed with the director on his two-part epic “Che.” She recently produced Richard Gere starrer “Arbitrage” and is currently developing an adaptation of Marcal Aquino’s hitman-related novel “The Trespasser” with scribe Bret Easton Ellis.

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