. . . or death, if you’re familiar with the book.
While Martin Scorsese will have his hands full re-creating Chicago in all its 1893 splendor, Leonardo DiCaprio must transform into H. H. Holmes, probably one of America’s most prolific serial killers. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America (2003), Erik Larson’s most popular book to date, chronicles not only the birth and death of the World’s Columbian Exposition, the fair to end all fairs, but also a man on a similarly infamous trajectory: Holmes, who had moved to Chicago in order to take advantage of the anonymity that a larger city could offer him while preying on the practically endless stream of potential victims who were conveniently staying in his magnificent hotel/murder lair.
With the collision of the two story threads, this could be epic on the big screen. While one story follows the prominent men who built the fair, potentially using a classic Merchant Ivory costume-drama treatment of dramatic conversations over dinner about the meaning of life, and the fate of the city should the fair fail (spoiler: it didn’t), the other skulks through the mean streets of Chicago, where the fates of vulnerable young women are in the hands of master grifter Holmes right before he gasses and dismembers them (spoiler: he does).
It will be interesting to see how screenwriter Billy Ray forms a movie experience from the book. Readers were enthralled by the tension Larson created between the two contrasting stories, so moviegoers will expect no less. Could this finally be the property that helps DiCaprio capture Oscar gold? Let’s see if he can get away with murder.