Ron Howard Heads For Mena

He'll direct the CIA crime biopic


Ron Howard has found a possible follow-up to last year's excellent Rush and his upcoming nautical drama Heart Of The Sea, in the form of another true life tale. He's now attached to direct Mena, from a spec script by Gary Spinelli that Universal have snapped up at auction for a cool million dollars.

No, it's not a Mena Suvari biopic. The title refers to Mena, Arkansas, the site of much of the action in the extraordinary life of Barry Seal, the focus of the film. Seal was a pilot for TWA in the 1970s who lost his job when he was caught flying plastic explosives from Miami to Mexico for an anti-Castro group. He subsequently went solo as an aviation consultant, and began a lucrative second career smuggling cannabis and cocaine between South and North America, eventually getting entangled with the notorious Colombian Medellin Cartel.

When he was caught, he made deals with the CIA and DEA to continue his activities as an informant and spy. His adventures saw him encounter infamous names like Pablo Escobar and Jorge Luis Ochoa Vasquez, expose political corruption in Nicaragua and have no small part in kicking off the Iran Contra Affair. He was assassinated in Baton Rouge by the Medellins in 1986.

In short, the story has the potential to make a meaty political crime drama, and the fraught bidding for the screenplay between all the big studios shows the high hopes that Hollywood has for the material. That's all the more impressive when you consider that Spinelli's only previous credit is the Dolph Lundgren movie Stash House.

What effect, if any, Mena will have on the other Pablo Escobar films that have been percolating in recent years remains to be seen. Doug Davison and Brian Grazer are the producers, but there's no start date yet. The film is jostling for position among several others on Howard's development slate, so it may not be his next project. Heart Of The Sea, meanwhile, is currently scheduled for release next March, starring Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Jordi Molla and Tom Holland.