Film & Video

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The Brooklyn Paper



 

O'Hara gets his close-up

The Brooklyn Paper
By Dana Rubinstein

December 22, 2007

A local writer has cast District Attorney Charles Hynes as the villain in a new movie about an unlikely big-screen hero — “O’Hara.”

The title character is none other than political gadfly John O’Hara, a longtime opponent of the Brooklyn Democratic machine (that kind of thing happens when the DA busts you for voting in the wrong polling place — but more on that later!).

John O’Hara’s life story on the big screen? It may seem far-fetched, but this is no film school production.

O’Hara and screenwriter Christopher Ketcham, a freelance journalist, have managed to line up some big-name backers.

Holt McCallany, who appeared in the movies “Panic Room” and “Three Kings,” and plays Ricky on TV’s “Heroes,” has agreed to co-write the script with Ketcham, and then to direct it.

McCallany, meanwhile, enlisted director Nick Cassavetes, with whom he worked on the HBO film “Alpha Dog,” as a producer. Cassavetes is busy shooting “My Sister’s Keeper,” a New Line film starring Cameron Diaz, but his assistant, Frank Peluso, confirmed that Cassavetes “is a producer on the project.”

Even better, Chris Noth (you know, Mr. Big from “Sex & the City”) is also an old pal of O’Hara’s and is considering taking the role of Hynes.

“This is going to be a really high-profile project,” said McCallany. “It will attract a lot of attention to this story.”

And what’s the story?

Well, the film, which hews closely to real-life (though alleged!) events, centers on former Civil Court judge John Phillips, whom Hynes’s office had declared mentally incompetent in 2001 — shortly after he announced that he would run against the long-serving DA. That declaration set into motion the plundering of Phillips’s substantial real-estate portfolio by court-appointed guardians.

O’Hara sprang to Phillips’s aid. He didn’t have much to lose, after all. In 1997, Hynes prosecuted him for voting from his girlfriend’s Sunset Park address (14 blocks from his home). O’Hara, who was a practicing attorney, was subsequently debarred. It is believed to be the only time a person has been successfully prosecuted for voting in the wrong election district.

“It’s a pretty tragic tale,” said McCallany. “It’s the kind of malicious skullduggery that you would expect to see in Russia.”

And it’s also the sort of tale that lends itself to the cinema.

“It’s just the interaction of these rebels in an attempt to topple the corrupt power, the machine,” said Ketcham. “It’s like ‘Prince of the City’ meets ‘Serpico’ meets ‘City Hall.’ My wife just added ‘Pee Wee’s Playhouse.’ I don’t know what she’s talking about.”

“[And] O’Hara’s a great character,” added Ketcham. “He’s a man who decided not to stand down before the powers that be. In doing so, he ended up basically losing everything. He’s a very American character, the rebel, the David versus Goliath.”

Phillips, reached by phone at his Park Slope nursing home, said, “Everybody’s got a little story in their lives that would make it into a movie.”

Hynes, for his part, declined to comment on his upcoming turn as villain in a big-screen picture, though Ketcham speculated that “he certainly won’t be pleased.”

“On the other hand, when you conduct yourself in the manner he has over the years [with Phillips and O’Hara], you can expect yourself to be portrayed as a villain in movies,” he added.

The movie has a budget of $6 million, according to McCallany, and should begin production sometime this summer.