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War is helm for Crowe

Oscar-winning thesp to topline, co-produce, rewrite script

NEW YORK — Russell Crowe will make his debut as a director, screenwriter and producer on “The Long Green Shore,” an Intermedia-financed WWII ensemble drama based on the novel by John Hepworth.

Crowe also will play a lead role in the film, which will begin production next spring in the South Pacific.

Crowe will produce the pic with Mark Johnson after rewriting the existing script by Bob Ellis, who was a friend and collaborator of the late novelist. The film will be Crowe’s followup project to the Ron Howard-directed “A Beautiful Mind” for Imagine.

Crowe’s involvement in “The Long Green Shore” will answer the riddle of numerous studio executives who’ve wondered why the seemingly available Crowe has been turning down their highest-profile films. Even though he could make much more money as an actor coming off “Gladiator” and “The Insider,” Crowe has put everything aside to film a novel that puts into context Australia’s involvement in WWII.

Storyline

“The Long Green Shore” tells the story of an Australian battalion that arrives on the beaches of New Guinea with orders to beat back the retreating Japanese. The men are greeted by the corpses of Americans and Japanese, remnants of earlier bloody warfare and a reminder of their dubious purpose there.

The war against Germany in Europe is over and the Japanese resolve has weakened to the point where it’s a foregone conclusion that WWII will end shortly. Pushed by a hard-nosed commander, the battalion presses on, engaging starving and straggling Japanese battalions in bloody battles.

The book has meditative qualities, as the battalion members ponder the fragility of life and the notion of obligation to fight under their flag even when waging battles that serve more political than practical purposes.

Crowe could play the commander or any one of about a dozen other roles, including a character who narrates the entire tale.

Prelude to a pic

The collaboration between Crowe, Intermedia partner Nigel Sinclair and producer Johnson has been years in the making. Sinclair met Crowe when Intermedia had just gotten off the ground with “Sliding Doors” and Crowe’s star was just beginning to take off after “L.A. Confidential.”

When Crowe revealed his interest in the book and his determination to get behind the camera, Sinclair reacted by securing rights to the book right away. Johnson became involved shortly after.

Crowe has been kicking the tires on other pictures, such as the DreamWorks/Spyglass Michael Petroni-scripted “A Course in Miracles.”

Financing the film

Intermedia, which now has a swarm of star-driven plum projects, will seek to set up the midbudget film with a domestic partner.

Crowe becomes the latest leading man to move behind the camera, with Denzel Washington about to start production on the Fox Searchlight drama “Finding Fish” and George Clooney prepping “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” at Miramax.

Crowe’s more immediate assignment will be touring the U.S. this month as the front man for the band Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts.

Once he’s finished rocking, he will shut himself away to work on the script and prep the movie for the spring shoot.

He is repped by William Morris.

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