Tom Cruise spies 'Matarese Circle'

Denzel Washington starring in David Cronenberg film

Scofield finally has his Taleniekov.

Moviegoers hoping to see Denzel Washington and Tom Cruise face off on the big screen will get their chance with MGM's big-budget adaptation of "The Matarese Circle." Cruise is in final negotiations to take on the role of the Russian spy Vasili Taleniekov, the mortal enemy of American intelligence operative Brandon Scofield (Washington).

"Eastern Promises" director David Cronenberg will direct the globetrotting potential franchise-launcher.

Cruise, an ownership partner in MGM division United Artists, had been considering several projects, including the Spyglass Entertainment thriller "The Tourist" and the Universal comedy "Food Fight." Reps still are working out where the "Matarese" shoot will fit in chronologically.

But committing to "Matarese" keeps Cruise playing home-team ball as he is developing a number of potential producing and starring projects at MGM and UA. The "Matarese" property could benefit Cruise's acting career as well because it represents a return to the high-tech action milieu that served him well in the "Mission: Impossible" franchise most recently visited in 2006.

Adapted by "Wanted" scribes Derek Haas and Michael Brandt, as well as Cronenberg, from a 1979 Robert Ludlum novel, the "Matarese" story line revolves around the longtime archenemies who are forced into a distrustful collaboration against a wide-reaching political conspiracy orchestrated by a mysterious organization called the Matarese.

Ludlum drew inspiration from David Rockefeller's Trilateral Commission in the 1970s, but the screenwriters have updated the time frame from the Cold War to a contemporary setting.

Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Nick Wechsler and Jeffrey Weiner and Ben Smith through are producing their newly formed Captivate Entertainment. Henry Morrison will executive produce.

MGM and Relativity Media spent about $4 million for the book and writer package in April, with Washington attached to star. (Relativity no longer is involved in the project.) It was one of just-hired chairman Mary Parent's first big purchases and is a linchpin of her revived homegrown production slate for 2010 and beyond.

As such, Ludlum is a good gamble, especially with such international draws as Washington and Cruise toplining, even if a more eccentric filmmaker like Cronenberg is behind the camera. The "Bourne" trilogy, also derived from Ludlum novels, grossed $945 million worldwide for Universal with director Paul Greengrass ("Bloody Sunday") behind the second two of them. Several other Ludlum properties are in development at Paramount, Universal and Summit.

After "Quantum of Solace," MGM regains sole proprietorship of the James Bond juggernaut, and Guillermo del Toro's two-part adaptation of "The Hobbit" is in the works. But neither is likely to see screen time before 2011 or 2012.

Ludlum wrote a follow-up to "Matarese" in 1997 called "The Matarese Countdown," to which the studio also has acquired the rights.

The CAA-repped Cruise most recently starred in the UA release "Valkyrie," which has grossed $139 million worldwide. He also appeared in a high-profile cameo for the DreamWorks comedy "Tropic Thunder."