'Righteous' men: De Niro, Pacino


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CANNES -- Robert De Niro and Al Pacino are teaming to play New York police investigators hunting a serial killer in Jon Avnet's $60 million thriller "Righteous Kill" for Avi Lerner's Millennium Films and Emmett/Furla Films.

The independently financed feature written by Russell Gewirtz ("Inside Man," the upcoming "Labyrinth") unites the longtime friends on screen for some 90% of the film -- unlike their one shared scene in Michael Mann's "Heat" and no shared scenes in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather Part II."

"You see those two icons onscreen together for virtually the whole film," Lerner said at his Festival de Cannes offices, "(something) never seen before in the history of cinema. It's one of the hardest deals we've ever done to put these two actors together."

Lerner and Randall Emmett closed negotiations on the CAA-packaged project late Thursday morning during the festival.

Emmett said the actors had long been seeking a project on which to work together and that he acted as a catalyst to get the duo together. Lerner talked to producer Art Linson and De Niro, now filming the Warner Bros. Hollywood comedy "What Just Happened?" to help move the new project along.

"Kill" begins a two-month shoot in Connecticut and New York on Aug. 6, taking advantage of each state's tax incentive programs. Lerner said "Kill" is the biggest budget production he's ever done without co-financing from a major studio. "If this were a studio film, it would cost $120 million," he said. "We believe the independent film world (makes films) more efficiently, more cost effectively and with more heart. A studio would read it and set up a committee about the script, the director ... a committee about the committee."

The film reunites Pacino, Avnet and the two production companies, all of whom collaborated recently on the thriller "88 Minutes."

Although Lerner recently became co-CEO of indie production/distribution company First Look Studios with Henry Winterstern, he expects the film to be sold and distributed by a major studio before production begins.

The producers of "Kill" are Lerner, Emmett, Avnet, Boaz Davidson, George Furla and Alexandra Milchan. Danny Dimbort and Trevor Short will serve as exec producers.

De Niro is repped by CAA and the Firm. Pacino, Avnet and Gewirtz are repped by CAA. Lonnie Ramati negotiated the deal for Millennium Films.