Tristar Pictures announced today that Tom Cruise would play Randy "Duke" Cunningham in the story of Cunningham's sordid descent into bribery and manipulation of defense contracts during his career in Congress. "This is a homecoming of sorts for me," an exultant Cruise said. Cruise's first blockbuster screen role was in 1986's Top Gun, where his character, the brash jet fighter pilot Maverick Mitchell, was based on Cunningham, himself a fighter pilot in Vietnam.
Cruise purchased the film rights to Cunningham's story after a brisk bidding war, convincing Cunningham to sell to him in part because of the way Cruise had played him in Top Gun. Even so, the rights were in doubt after the sealed bids had been given to Cunningham's lawyer. But when Cruise sweetened the deal by also giving Cunningham a Rolls Royce, an antique commode and laser shooting equipment to replace the items seized by federal authorities when Cunningham was arrested, the outcome was sealed.
Cruise is going to write the screenplay himself. "It will be a docudrama," he said. "The gist of the story will be true, but we will punch up the story to make it more interesting." One fictitious character will be a sultry Washington defense lobbyist, Wanda Wickham, whose seductive ways help turn Cunningham to the dark side; she will be played by Katie Holmes. "We will delay the shooting until after the baby is born and Katie is back in shape," Cruise said.
Cunningham, who faces a long prison sentence and is fighting at least to keep his congressional pension, said through a spokesman that he was thrilled to have his story told again on the big screen, and especially thrilled to have Cruise take on the role. "I am hoping my success at selling my story for the Silver Screen will serve as an inspiration and hope for other congressmen caught taking millions in bribes and facing jail terms," he said in a prepared statement.