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Universal Gets Cold Feet, Bails On Backing Paul Greengrass’ MLK ‘Memphis’ Film

Universal Gets Cold Feet, Bails On Backing Paul Greengrass' MLK 'Memphis' Film

Director Paul Greengrass cannot catch a break it seems. Ever since the documentarian turned feature-length filmmaker bailed on the 4th ‘Bourne‘ movie, he’s had a string of bad luck. His Iraq war thriller, “Green Zone” ballooned around the $150 million mark (even though $100 million is the figure released) and the film pulled in a paltry $35 million domestically even with Jason Bourne-lead Matt Damon as the star. Universal took a beating on the film and the friction on that picture is part of what led Greengrass to leave ‘Bourne’ (though it should be said that, creatively, Damon and Greengrass were exhausted and would have left the franchise regardless). Waiting in the wings all this time was a Jimi Hendrix biopic that Greengrass had been working on since the early aughts and he had even found a star in “Hurt Locker” actor Anthony Mackie, but the Hendrix estate ultimately balked and the project was deep-sixed.

Greengrass flirted with the idea of the mainstream for a moment, taking meetings on “Fantastic Voyage” with producer James Cameron, “Treasure Island” with Warner Bros, under the stewardship of “Sherlock Holmes” producer Lionel Wigram, and a 3D “Cleopatra” with producer Scott Rudin and Angelina Jolie as the lead, but his heart wasn’t in any of these projects and he politely passed on them all.

He then settled on a much more Greengrass-ian film, the historical drama, “Memphis,” which centered on the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the troubled months leading up to the legendary civil rights leader’s death. Despite the back and forth over budget on “Green Zone,” Universal and Greengrass kissed and made up and a month after the project was announced, the studio greenlit the picture and had even slotted it apparently for a February 2012 release date during MLK weekend. However, the studio has reneged on their plan and pulled out of financing and distributing the picture entirely

Universal has evidently confirmed to Deadline that they have dropped the project, with the reason remaining somewhat unclear. However, the trade reports that the MLK estate was “highly critical” of the project, and Greengrass’ script; so much so that they had threatened to openly and publicly condemn the project should it come to pass, and a nervous Universal apparently started to get cold feet after feeling the pressure.

While some will holler that the studio also just shit-canned financing and distributing Guillermo del Toro’s “At The Mountains Of Madness,” Universal has been in the expensive risk-taking business for too long (see a string of expensive bombs and non-hits like “The Wolfman,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” “MacGruber,” “Kick-Ass,” “Public Enemies,” “Land Of The Lost,” etc.) and “Memphis” never sounded like the most lucrative project known to popcorn-munching, escapist-seeking moviegoers that tend to dominate movie theater ticket sales these days. One studio that was apparently in the mix seems like more of a logical home. Focus Features, aren’t mentioned in Deadline’s report, but Scott Rudin and Greengrass evidently intend to solider on to try and find more studio support. Frankly, Focus would probably be their best bet, so we hope this one works out for both of them. We’re also hoping Mackie centers into the picture in some kind of role, maybe even the lead — MLK Jr. was 39 when he was assassinated and Mackie is 31. A slight age-up and gaining of weight could easily do the trick.

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