MGM, Relativity buy 'Matarese Circle'

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UPDATED: 4:03 p.m. PT, April 6, 2008

A heated week of negotiations for "The Matarese Circle," a buzzed-about project based on a Robert Ludlum novel, culminated with MGM and Relativity Media winning the bidding war late Friday.

The project, first reported in The Hollywood Reporter is an action-thriller based on Ludlum's Cold War novel. Denzel Washington is attached to play the hero, and "3:10 to Yuma" scribes Michael Brandt and Derek Haas are on board to write.

Despite hearing the pitch on Thursday, several days after other studios did, MGM and Relativity outmaneuvered Universal and Fox, who were both said to be keenly interested. MGM and Relativity, who will be 50-50 partners in the deal, will spend an estimated $5 million for the package, with about $2 million of that going to the writers.

Ludlum estate executor Jeffrey Weiner will produce, as will Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Nick Wechsler. It's Weiner's first producing credit; on other Ludlum projects he served as exec producer.

"Matarese" revolves around two secret agents -- an American and a Russian -- who must work together to fight a mysterious group of killers known as the Matarese. The twist is that the agents, Bradley Scofield and Vasili Taleniekov, have been nemeses for years, with each responsible for killing someone close to the other. According to those familiar with the pitch, Washington will play Scofield.

"Matarese" could be attractive to studios seeking a new franchise. The property is the only other Ludlum invention to feature more than one novel; a second book, "The Matarese Countdown," was published in 1997.

Brandt and Haas are fast-rising stars in the scribe world; they also penned Universal's upcoming Angelina Jolie tentpole "Wanted."

The move sends a strong signal that MGM is interested in large-scale original projects, intentions it originally broadcast with the hiring of Mary Parent as chair of the worldwide motion picture group several weeks ago. The studio is in the midst of a transition, with COO Rick Sands exiting the company last week. Parent called "Matarese" a potential franchise.

Ryan Kavanaugh's Relativity, which also made "Yuma," has been aggressive since the strike ended; the company also bought "The Low Dweller," a dark thriller spec that has Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio attached. It's also partnering with MGM for David Twohy's "A Perfect Getaway," currently in production.

After decades during which the late Ludlum's novels failed to gain big-screen traction, the thriller novelist is now hot in Hollywood. Universal's "Bourne" series, based on Ludlum's globe-hopping Cold War novels and with Damon as the title character, have earned more than $900 million worldwide.

Universal has announced a fourth "Bourne" movie reteaming Damon and director Paul Greengrass, though Ludlum wrote only three novels, with another writer jumping in after the author died. Other Ludlum projects in development include "The Chancellor Manuscript" at DiCaprio's Appian Way.

Borys Kit in Los Angeles contributed to this report
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