In what becomes the first hot package to be unveiled as part of the Toronto International Film Festival market, Oscar winners Morgan Freeman, Al Pacino, Helen Mirren, and Oscar nominee Danny DeVito are set to star in Sniff, a stylish reinvention of the film noir genre that will be directed by Oscar winner Taylor Hackford. Endeavor Content will launch worldwide sales at TIFF, with CAA Media Finance co-repping U.S. rights.
In the Tom Grey-scripted film, two residents die under suspicious circumstances in a high-end luxury retirement community. Retired detective Joe Mulwray (Freeman) is pulled back into the action by his former partner William Keys (DeVito), and they uncover a hidden underworld of sex, drugs and murder in the wealthy community controlled by kingpin Harvey Stride (Pacino), and his femme fatale enforcer, The Spider (Mirren). Sniff is an acronym for Senior Nursing Institute & Family Foundation.
Adam Goodman and Matt Skiena will produce through their Dichotomy Creative Group, along with Hackford through his Anvil Films production shingle. Grey will be executive producer.
“I have always been a big fan of film noir but haven’t really made one, though I did make Against All Odds,” said Hackford. “That was a remake of Out of the Past, which is one of the best film noirs ever. I didn’t want to make a shot for shot redo of that, but took it as inspiration. Adam and Matt Skiena sent me the script, over the transom to my agent, and I was delighted. First-time screenwriter who has amazing style and conceptually understands what makes film noir stick. The whole concept of setting a film noir in an upscale retirement community … these are proliferating all over the United States as the baby boomer generation gets to retirement. There’s a lot of money, and people want to live in a beautiful setting. Those are on the brochures, but what Tom Grey did was show what was lurking below the surface. I thought it was a brilliant idea and he understood the nature of good noir — the dark story, the incredibly twisted characters — and I thought he had a great handle. Adam and Matt said, ‘It’s yours if you want to run with it.’ I met the writer, Tom Grey, we clicked and worked on it together, him writing and me putting ideas in.
“When you have something that’s original, I asked him, ‘Who did you have in mind when you wrote it?’ He said Morgan Freeman as the detective at the end of his rope, the main nemesis Al Pacino, the femme fatale Helen Mirren — an actor I know quite well,” her husband, Hackford, added. “I said, ‘How about the ex-partner?’ He said Danny DeVito. Well, these are all people I know. I’ve worked with Al, Helen, Danny is a friend, and Morgan I know, and he’s always been looking for something to do with Helen. He’s told me that. I said, ‘I’m going to try and make your dream come true.’ Luckily, what I’d read on the page fit those actors.”
From there, it was not only about making people’s schedules work but form-fitting the roles for the elite cast.
“When I did Devil’s Advocate with Al, he turned it down four times,” Hackford recalled. “And Tony Gilroy and I just kept changing and adding scenes. Al isn’t easy. It was a redo of that Devil’s Advocate experience. We gave it to Al, and he said, ‘I don’t know if it’s for me.’ I kept saying, ‘Al, it is for you,’ and we kept making changes. And now Al think he’s got the best role in the film. Danny is a very good director and a wonderful actor, but none of these people are easy, but I think the idea of all of use collaborating together, I think is going to be delicious. And everybody has a role deserving of their talent.”
Hackford’s ambition is to give the noir genre the kind of jumpstart that Knives Out did to the whodunit.
“Usually you don’t want to mention other films, and this has nothing to do with that film in terms of story,” Hackford said. “But I loved what Rian Johnson did in terms of taking an old genre, the whodunit, and spicing it up with life and making it real in the contemporary situation. That’s what I have in mind for Sniff in the film noir. There is a stylistic quotient in the writing and the characters that gives the audience light. There is an enjoyment in film noir, especially when you get a Bogart, a Mitchum — somebody who knows how to deliver great dialogue. That’s what Tom wrote, and I think it will be fun with the actors. At its core, I’m serious about film noir and that it gets dark and difficult. There will be laughs and smiles in the film, but as it goes, it gets darker and darker, and it pays off. If you are using film noir and it doesn’t pay off in a very climactic way, it becomes a euphemistic use of that turn, and this is not that. We’ve got great racehorses on a really interesting track, and when that happens, there is potential if I do my job, to turn out a memorable film.”
Producer Goodman said the goal is for the film to begin production by early next year.
“The dream is to have the film available for the fourth quarter of 2022,” he said. “Adult audiences are wildly underserved right now, and it feels like there is a great opportunity here. This film can play broadly but it can be a real event for that community. We really haven’t seen this type of cast since the Ocean’s Eleven movies.”