Back in 2015, Ridley Scott quickly attached himself to direct an adaptation of Don Winslow’s then-new book The Cartel, which was flying off shelves. Now, with Alien: Covenant and All the Money in the World under his belt, Scott is about to finally turn his attention to The Cartel, and it’s shaping up to be one sprawling adaptation.
Winslow’s book covers roughly a decade in the world of the Mexican drug cartels, including a fictionalized account of El Chapo’s 2001 prison escape, but adapting the book outright has proved to be a tough task. At the recent press day for All the Money in the World, Collider’s own Steve Weintraub spoke to screenwriter David Scarpa, who’s also writing The Cartel, and he revealed that he and Scott’s vision for the adaptation involves somewhat moving away from the source material:
“Part of [the appeal of The Cartel] was Don Winslow’s book, which is this big sweeping Dickensian book that kind of can’t be adapted. Not only is it 600 pages long, but it’s 600 incredibly dense pages. Like very densely plotted and very full of politics and culture and like six different character storylines and all that stuff, so it’s really about sort of managing to capture the essence of it, and yet also sort of reconceive it almost as a companion piece to the book. The idea being we can’t possibly deliver you the same experience that’s in the book, but we can deliver you an experience that is kind of complimentary to it.”
Scarpa says Scott envisions a Godfather-like epic for the film, but they’re working on keeping the budget manageable:
“Ridley’s got sort of a big ambition for the movie. I think he sees it as a big sort of sprawling epic, and yet it’s also the battle to keep the thing economical as well, in a sort of Godfather kind of sense, and that’s incredibly interesting as well.”
But Scarpa also teased that the film will touch on the new relationship between the United States and Mexico in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency:
“Part of what intrigued me was, and this is something that’s come about after the book was written, which is our relationship to Mexico has changed. America has always had a certain kind of Cain and Abel relationship to Mexico, and I’m not saying one is Cain or one is Abel, but it’s always been this sort of relationship to the border. And now, frankly, after the rise of Donald Trump there’s sort of this even more heightened tension, and to me a big part of it was wanting to get into that world and kind of show Mexico as a spiritual place that is in a sense kind of endangered by our need for drugs. In a sense they export our drugs up here and we export our pain to them, and the idea is one of examining that relationship between the United States and Mexico in a new way.”