03/28/2008 02:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

"American Gangster" Hits Screens After Years Of Financial Wrangling

The upcoming movie, "American Gangster," is a gripping real-lifestory about a Harlem drug kingpin who in the '70s smuggled heroin out of Southeast Asia in the caskets of U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam. ¶ The plot is dense, with lots of twists and turns. ¶ So is the saga of the movie's three lives. ¶ Fraught with emotional trauma, crushed egos, humiliation and passion, the movie's tortured journey to the big screen was unusual even by Hollywood standards. The project was killed off twice by Universal Pictures when the budget soared out of control, then resurrected three years later, at a much higher cost. ¶ Seven years in the making, "American Gangster" premieres Nov. 2., with such headliners as producer Brian Grazer, director Ridley Scott, and stars Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. It weighs in at $100 million, with worldwide marketing likely to add $80 million to the cost, not to mention the $30 million Universal spent to shut down the original production. ¶ In an age when bean counters and focus groups drive movie decisions, the film is the type of highflier reminiscent of Hollywood's past, when studio bosses such as Louis B. Mayer trusted their gut.

"Universal's decision to make this movie defies any kind of logic of how the studio system works today," said Grazer, the Oscar-winning producer behind "American Gangster."

Grazer's ability to revive the movie also shows the power that a handful of top producers have in Hollywood. It's hard for studios to say "no" to people such as Grazer, whose company, Imagine Entertainment, is Universal's most prolific movie supplier.

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