Walk the Goal Line: James Mangold in talks to direct Joe Namath biopic


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EXCLUSIVE: It’s not just because we’re hard-core, bleed-green New York Jets fans that we’re interested in a Joe Namath movie.

The quarterback and all-around media personality (no Suzy Kolber jokes!) is one of the more fascinating biopic subjects out there. Mediocre subjects get developed as biopics all the time, but Namath -- the brash, victory-predicting, fur-coat-wearing countercultural icon -- is the real deal, cinematically speaking. There’s the on-field drama, the off-field exploits, and of course, the historic Super Bowl win that basically changed the face of televised sports and celebrity all at the same time.


Which is why it makes plenty of sense that we’re hearing that James Mangold would take on Namath the way Broadway Joe took on the Baltimore defensive line that January 1969 afternoon. The director is in talks with producer Andrew Lazar, who’s developing the untitled Namath movie, to come aboard the project.

Mangold is of course best known for taking on a different kind of countercultural icon (more of a working-class icon, actually) in Johnny Cash and ‘Walk the Line.’ More than most, the filmmaker gets the intersection of pop culture, image and talent, which is something Cash and Namath both mined to perfection.

Darren Aronofsky, incidentally, was also on the short list for the Namath movie, back when producers were interested in moving it forward and Mangold was working on ‘Knight and Day.’ But now ‘Knight’ is finished -- the Tom Cruise vehicle comes out this summer -- and Aronofsky is busy (he’s in postproduction on ‘Black Swan’ and likely moving on to the period drama ‘Serena’ with Angelina Jolie). So Mangold it will be.

Lazar (he was behind ‘Get Smart’ and the upcoming ‘Jonah Hex’) is set to meet with the director shortly to see if they can hammer out the details. There’s also no official casting yet, though Jake Gyllenhaal had come aboard several years ago; for the sake of moviedom and Broadway Joe’s legacy, we’re hoping it’s someone else, but that’s just us. It’s also not set up at a studio, but expect both Universal and Paramount to be in the running, among some other big players.

Lazar owns life rights to Namath, which should pave the way to a thorough telling of the Joe Namath story. And hopefully the former NFLer’s cooperation will help, not hinder, that goal. (There’s also Mark Kriegel’s comprehensive book on the quarterback, which Lazar does not own.)

Of course in writing about the Jets and the movies, we can’t help but think of the scene from Adam Sandler’s ‘Mr. Deeds.’ Informed that he now owns the Jets, Sandler, a high-profile Jets fan in real life, quips: ‘I do? That (stinks). I hope they don’t play the Pats.’


--Steven Zeitchik