Monday, October 7, 2013

Ronald H. Balson's "Once We Were Brothers"

Ronald H. Balson is a trial attorney in Chicago, where he has practiced for the last 40 years, and has taught business law at the University of Chicago for twenty-five of those years. Once We Were Brothers is his first novel, which was inspired by several trips to Poland in connection with a telecommunications law suit. The Polish monuments, the memorials and the scars of the war he saw on his trips, motivated him to write his World War II novel. He lives with his family and a couch-eating dog in a Chicago suburb.

Here Balson dreamcasts a big screen adaptation of Once We Were Brothers:
The film rights to Once We Were Brothers has been optioned to a Hollywood production company, but the casting remains on the “to-do list.” The fast-paced novel is a natural for the big screen – dialogue predominates. The story dramatically begins at the Chicago Lyric Opera’s opening night, where a prominent civic leader, Elliot Rosenzweig, is publicly accused of being a former Nazi SS officer and the “Butcher of Zamosc, Poland.” His accuser, Ben Solomon, engages attorney Catherine Lockhart to bring Rosenzweig to court. Over a number of sessions, Solomon tells Lockhart about his family and their struggles to survive in war-torn Poland. He tells her that Rosenzweig (then known as Otto Piatek) and he grew up in the same household--and grew close, like brothers -- only have Otto betray him and his family during the war. Now, sixty years later, Solomon seeks to hold Piatek responsible for what he has done.

As an eighty-two year old survivor of the Holocaust, I think that Dustin Hoffman would be perfect for the role of Ben Solomon. Clearly, a different and exciting dramatic role for an actor who has spent a career in several different genres.

Jennifer Connelly is perfect for Catherine. She is capable of showing fragility and sensitivity, yet is capable of carrying out the strong resolve that sole-practitioner Catherine needs to confront a billionaire and his team of high-priced attorneys. Catherine’s boyfriend is Liam Taggart, a tough Irish private investigator and Ben Solomon’s friend from the neighborhood. The book says he’s got more miles on him than his forty-one years would show. I see Liev Schreiber in the part.

Elliot Rosenzweig is polished, wealthy and arrogant. He is above reproach. He has been given the key to the city by the Mayor of Chicago. Yet he is called upon to defend the most heinous of charges: participation in the Nazi regime. Anthony Hopkins can carry it off.

When Solomon recounts his family’s struggles to Catherine, he relives his early years in Poland, the years in which he and Piatek were like brothers. Young Ben is kind, intelligent and shy. Yet he finds the courage to protect his family and join the Polish underground. Andrew Garfield looks the part and has that inner courage. Young Otto Piatek must be handsome and strong, but he is also cold and slick. I think Ryan Gosling could pull it off. His girlfriend is a Polish girl named Elzbieta. I think Leelee Sobieski would be right.

The love of Ben’s life is Hannah. She is gentle, wise and supportive. Through all of Ben’s efforts to rescue his family and his forays with the underground, she is by his side. Natalie Portman would be perfect. Beka is Ben’s sister. She is carefree, lively and full of spunk. At a dramatic moment, she shows extraordinary courage. I see Jennifer Lawrence as Beka.

Note to my production company. Get your wallets out. This is a three hundred million dollar cast. The movie better do well!
Learn more about the book and author at the official Once We Were Brothers website and Ronald H. Balson's Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue