Penn and El Chapo: When Hollywood Calls, Who Can Resist?

I love Hollywood – the film industry.  I really do.  In rain or shine, good or bad times, it’s given me a living off and on.  I’ve been a movie-set gofer, a bit actor (as a “native boy” in Bride of the Gorilla), an asst. film editor, a story analyst, TV show “associate producer” (nobody knows what this is), and talent agent as well as script writer.  What’s not to love?  OK, so I got blacklisted too but what the hell.

The White House is sore that actor Sean Penn got to one of the world’s most notorious killers-and-torturers, El Chapo Guzman, boss of the mushrooming Sinaloa Drug Cartel, before the immensely corrupt Mexican government got around to it.

Obama’s spokesman calls it “maddening” that entrepeneurial Sean Penn got to Guzman before the federales.  The government shouldn’t have sent Marines and soldiers after Guzman, which took months after his last pre-arranged “escape” from a Mexican prison, Obama simply should have waved a movie contract at the drug lord which would have flushed him out in seconds.

Guzman’s downfall is pure Hollywood.  Sean Penn, accompanied by a beautiful Mexican TV soap actress, goes south of the border for a Rolling Stone seven hour interview with the fugitive involving “talks to produce a movie about his life”.  Law enforcement “were able to zero in on his whereabouts through his contacts with lawyers and producers.”

Penn writes that after Guzman’s recent tunnel escape from prison “the drug lord’s attorneys were overwhelmed by overtures from Hollywood studios to produce a movie based on his life” but, Guzman is no showbiz dummy, “he decided to produce his own”.

In other words, Mexican marines, shooting it out with Guzman’s bodyguards, interrupted a classic pitch meeting.  Poor El Chapo.  Didn’t he learn anything from the fates of John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde and Carlos the Jackel brought down by their thirst for personal publicity?

As far as I can tell Guzman – the second most powerful Mexican next to trillionaire Carlos Slim – was the straight goods speaking to Penn about his global reach.  Bragging, but probably truthful.  “I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world (with) a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats.”  Rival cartels like Los Zetas must go crazy with envy – as they begin setting up their own pitch meetings.

Special pleading, factual accuracy and limitless ego are all mixed up in Guzman’s interview. “Where I grew up (as a poor peasant boy) there was no other way, and there still isn’t a way to survive” except by the drug trade….”the only way to have money to buy food, to survive, is to grow poppy…”  Yes, “It’s a reality that drugs destroy,” he confessed to Penn.  But “If there was no consumption, there would be no sales.”  Who can argue?

Penn’s grinding ax probably is to legalize some drugs.

”We are the consumers…complicit in every corruption of an institution’s ability to protect” the Mexican quality of life due to “our insatiable appetite for illicit narcotics.”

Yes, Sean.  But when you make the movie who gets what money up front and at the back end and what about sequels and a franchise agreement and let’s not squabble over credits?   You’ll have to learn Spanish and gain  weight to play El Chapo.  But, hey, if Tom Cruise can play a sympathetic  Nazi officer, and Denzel a crowd-pleasing mass-killer drug kingpin, let’s go for it.

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Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Black Sunset

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