Last week Paul Greengrass was a rumored candidate to direct the 3D Cleopatra movie starring Angelina Jolie. Now it appears that the Jason Bourne franchise helmer will turn his attention to a political thriller that’s arguably much more up his alley – Memphis, a pic about the assassination of iconic civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.
Greengrass wrote the script for Memphis based off his own personal research and has approached both Focus Features as well as Oscar-winning producer Scott Rudin (No Country For Old Men) about making the project his next directorial effort.
Memphis will examine the period of King’s life just prior to his murder on April 4th, 1968 in the titular Tennessee city. As Vulture points out, that was an especially tumultuous time for the revered activist as his personal life was a mess (King’s marriage was falling apart, which contributed to his chain-smoking and heavy drinking); he’d parted ways with President Lyndon Johnson due to his outspoken disapproval of the Vietnam War; and King’s approach had diminished in popularity following the rise of the Black Power movement in the late 60s.
Best known for his handicam cinematography and gritty style, Greengrass began his filmmaking career in the documentary field long before he broke onto the Hollywood scene with his sequel, The Bourne Supremacy. Since then, the English auteur has shown a knack for handling rugged action thrillers with strong political overtones, as evidenced in both of his Jason Bourne outings, as well as the 9/11 docudrama United 93 and the Iraq Invasion pic Green Zone. Hence why a project like Memphis seems a natural fit for Greengrass to tackle.
A Martin Luther King Jr. biopic began development a few years back, but progress on the project has been stalled for a while now. A film like Memphis, which narrows its gaze to only a specific portion of the historical figure’s life, would not only have an easier time getting off the ground but also has the potential to be far less convention-bound than the average Hollywood biopic. For every acclaimed film that chronicles the life of a famous individual (to cite an appropriate example, Spike Lee’s Malcolm X), there seems to be several that fall into the trap of recounting the “important events” in their subject’s life without offering much insight about their personal motivation, feelings, thoughts, etc.
Memphis sounds like it’ll be more of a character study rather than a broad recreation of King’s life, which would allow Greengrass to explore the man’s personality with a fair amount of depth. Add to that the thriller aspects of the story – since King’s life was in a constant state of danger long before he was actually murdered – and the project seems to have the potential to be both very moving and viscerally engaging.
Expect to hear more about the development of Memphis in the near future.