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Act Naturally

Send Saddam Hussein packing to Hollywood for the mother of all movie roles: playing himself

March 11, 2003|Larry McMurtry | Larry McMurtry's next book, "The Wandering Hill: A Novel," will be published by Simon & Schuster in May.

Now that it seems certain that the Big Posse ordered up by our Hard Sheriff (President Bush) will soon go thundering into Iraq, scribes and helmers (Variety's words for writers and directors) can hardly be oblivious to the epic possibilities, cinematic and televisual, unfolding here.

My own thought is that it's far too epic a possibility to be relegated to the small screen. Television, after all, is where we'll see the real war -- or, at least, the real propaganda. Desert epics of this magnitude need a screen that will show a lot of sand. Remember "Lawrence of Arabia"? Remember "The Wind and the Lion"? Remember "Ishtar"?

Any producer with an ounce of instinct will be quick to sense a casting bonanza here. Start with Tom Cruise, who should be a lock to play the Hard Sheriff (President Bush), the top gun who is doing his best to whip this Big Posse into fighting trim.

For Vice President Dick Cheney, I'd opt for Jack Nicholson, although in quieter times no studio would waste Nicholson on a mere vice president. If Cheney were allowed to mope around topside, he'd merely be boring, like all vice presidents. But, cooped up as he is, lurching only rarely out of his grotto to deliver his grumpy, power-to-the-powerful utterances, he almost achieves malevolence. And nobody beats Jack at malevolence.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is a harder role to cast, but I think I'd go with Christopher Plummer. Though not a Princetonian himself, he could easily out-Princeton the real Princetonian Rumsfeld, or the old Have-Gun-Will-Travel Princetonian, James A. Baker III, whose gun -- who knows? -- may be needed again, as it was in Florida not so long ago. Plummer is as likely as anyone to convey in subtle nuances the Princeton sense of entitlement (Rumsfeld, Baker), as opposed to the Yale sense of entitlement (Bush, Cheney).

For Secretary of State Colin Powell, I'd cast the good, grave Morgan Freeman.

For our stylish National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Halle Berry is the obvious choice (remember how she rattled off all that demographic stuff in "Bulworth"?).

What the impressive duo of Powell and Rice is doing riding into the harsh East with this posse of rich white oligarchs is an enigma the script will have to probe. The lashing that Powell has already endured at the United Nations reminds me a bit of Freeman's fate in "Unforgiven": If things go wrong, the secretary of State probably will be the unforgiven.

The rest of the cast is mainly cookie-cutter stuff: Clint Eastwood for Gen. Tommy Franks, (the obligatory) Meryl Streep for Laura Bush, Adam Sandler for Ari Fleischer and Steve Buscemi to play both of Saddam Hussein's violent sons, Qusai and Uday. For the Greek mistress who's surfaced recently, why not Salma Hayek? Maybe she can't warble "The Iliad," but I bet she could do a rocking belly dance.

The most difficult role to cast is Hussein himself. Where are the great heavies when we need them? Akim Tamiroff is gone. Obviously, the Big Posse is about to ride, meaning probably that Hussein will soon be out of a job. He's a world-class dictator but only a passable actor, at least in the rather stiff takes we've been allowed to see. But he's already been offered exile -- so why not give him a shot at the part? Perhaps the chance to give one last performance in the role he's spent 30 years perfecting will get him out of there.

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