Ben Affleck is returning to 1970s Hollywood for his next directorial effort. As the filmmaker who won a Best Picture Oscar for Argo in 2013, a movie that briefly crossed paths with Tinseltown at the height of Star Wars fever in the late ‘70s, Affleck already knows well the setting of The Big Goodbye, which is being developed at Paramount Pictures. And with the new movie focused on Paramount’s struggles in making the legendary Chinatown, this means Affleck is helming a movie where Jack Nicholson, Roman Polanski, and Faye Dunaway are all characters.
Also set to write the screenplay, Affleck will be pulling from the nonfiction book The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood by Sam Wasson. The film is unsurprisingly near and dear to Paramount insiders’ hearts, as well as Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels, who purchased the rights to the book. Michaels will produce alongside Affleck.
The project will unpack the making of what is widely considered to be one of the greatest movies in Hollywood history. A neo noir inspired by the original film noir movement of the 1940s and ‘50s, but now told with a post-Watergate and post-Vietnam cynicism and sense of perspective, Chinatown stunned audiences when it was released in 1974. Sudden acts of shocking violence, conspiratorial paranoia, and a bleak ending all converged on a mainstream audience ready to embrace nihilism—which sounds pretty foreign today.
Chinatown was also a product of the “New Hollywood” movement of the late ‘60s and 1970s, which many considering the second golden age of Hollywood: an era where more risks were taken, and gritty naturalism and auteurs were preferred over formula and genre filmmaking. It also saw young hungry filmmakers rise to lofty “auteur” prominence. Think Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, William Friedkin, Bob Fosse, and, yes, Roman Polanski. The era also gave way to auteur excesses, perhaps best exemplified by Polanski who later pled guilty to drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl four years after making Chinatown.
Chinatown also won Robert Towne an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and earned numerous other nominations, including for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director. It was largely thwarted by another Paramount film: The Godfather Part II.
Perhaps a little bit like Quentin Tarantino’s 1969-set Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (which also featured Polanski as a character), The Big Goodbye will look at this crossroads in Hollywood. After all, Chinatown was made only a few years before Star Wars ushered in the age of franchise blockbusters and a new type of corporatized studio moviemaking that has dominated the industry ever since.
The Big Goodbye will also be Affleck’s first directorial effort since 2016’s Live by Night. The full publisher’s description of the book is below:
Here is Jack Nicholson at the height of his powers, as compelling a movie star as there has ever been, embarking on his great, doomed love affair with Anjelica Huston. Here is director Roman Polanski, both predator and prey, haunted by the savage death of his wife, returning to Los Angeles, the scene of the crime, where the seeds of his own self-destruction are quickly planted. Here is the fevered dealmaking of “The Kid” Robert Evans, the most consummate of producers. Here too is Robert Towne’s fabled script, widely considered the greatest original screenplay ever written. Wasson for the first time peels off layers of myth to provide the true account of its creation.