LOS ANGELES—Even as some runners have yet to cross the ceremonial finish line, Hollywood already has its sights set on a feature film based on last April’s Boston Marathon bombing. Big screen renditions of national tragedies are nothing new to tinsel town, but the filmmakers are already facing backlash for tabbing Justin Bieber to portray teenage terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
“Insensitive at best. A disgrace at the worst,” wrote the Hollywood Reporter. “Making a movie this soon is one thing if you’re dedicated to the story, but this shows they’re just out to make money.”
Writers Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy—the pair behind 2010’s The Fighter—will base their screenplay on Boston Strong, the as-yet unpublished book from Casey Sherman and the Boston Herald’s David Wedge, but they say it could take years for a film to reach theaters. “People say it’s too soon, but making a film is a marathon and not a sprint,” said Johnson. “I mean…you know what I mean. It takes a while.”
Although the film is not yet attached to a studio, both Tamasy and Johnson have agreed to donate half of their writing fee to victims of the tragedy. The other half will be used to reboot the Air Bud series, which Tamasy created in 1997.
Asked why Bieber is attached to the film so early in the project, Tamasy defended the choice as a shrewd financing move. “An explosive talent like Bieber can get a film made single-handedly. We need an A-list talent to attract studios and do this story justice.”
Bieber has yet to comment publicly on his first feature role, but his management team said the unlikely choice is actually perfect for helping the singer crossover into a new market. “Justin is excited to play a bad guy, especially one with an accent,” said one of Bieber’s publicists. “Plus, Justin has a lot in common with the Tsarnaev boy. For starters, they’re both 19 years old, and they’ve both been on the cover of Rolling Stone.”