It’s odd that Denzel Washington would wait until he’s well into his fifties to try shouldering a franchise again, but given the sad failure of Devil with a Blue Dress (a terrific film that should’ve spawned a whole gang of Easy Rawlins pictures), perhaps he was reticent to stake his $20 million asking price on anything less than a sure thing. While I’m not sure that Robert Ludlum’s The Matarese Circle qualifies as a “sure thing”, the success of the Bourne series suggests that his convoluted, Cold War thrillers can absolutely translate in the post-Arms Race era.
At present, Washington is only rumored as the man to play Brandon Scofield, a CIA agent forced to team up with a rival KGB operative in order to take down an independently affiliated group of assassins (the Matarese). MGM shelled out $3 million to the Ludlum estate for the rights to the novel (beating out several other studios, including Universal), but they held off on purchasing the second entry in the series, The Matarese Countdown; according to Variety, if the first film is a hit, MGM would prefer to develop a wholly original sequel.
For now, screenwriting duties have been handed off (for seven figures) to the 3:10 to Yuma team of Michael Brandt and Derek Haas. I wasn’t a huge fan of Yuma, but they’re solid craftsmen; I’d much rather see them getting more work than, say, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Since MGM is a little light in the franchise department (there’s Bond and the evil that is The Pink Panther), I imagine they’ll fast-track this film. And if Denzel’s not immediately available when they’re ready to start principal photography (with someone like Martin Campbell at the helm), I wouldn’t be surprised if they look elsewhere for a cheaper, younger alternative (Derek Luke, perhaps?).