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We recently reported on rumors that 300 and Machine Gun Preacher star Gerard Butler was contemplating playing the captain of a Navy SEAL team in the submarine thriller Hunter Killer. But if he ends up grabbing the role, he’ll be working for a different director than initially planned.

Phillip Noyce, director of two Tom Clancy adaptations and last summer’s Angelina Jolie vehicle Salt, has passed on Killer because it’s too close in size and scope to films he has made in the past, Moviehole reports. Noyce instead will choose between the love story Timeless or a thriller Above Suspicion, the latter of which was penned by Golden Globe nominee Chris Gerolmo (Mississippi Burning).

Now Relativity Media has to head back to the drawing board if they’d like to keep Killer on track for its previously announced Dec. 21, 2012 release date. The movie's an adaptation of Don Keith and George Wallace’s novel Firing Point, which has been optioned by producer Neil Moritz’s Original Films. Having Butler on board for the story – which sees the SEALs heading into Russian territory to prevent the launch of World War III – would help a director to hit the ground running.

But Noyce’s experience in the genre would have helped elevate Killer, so I hope the studio can find a filmmaker with a similar skill set who could turn this from a run-of-the-mill soldier thriller into something special. Tony Scott comes to mind (though this might be too similar to his Crimson Tide). Kathryn Bigelow also comes to mind, especially if she can bring Jeremy Renner with her-- but she's already got her own SEAL project Kill Bin Laden going. At this point it's all speculation. We’ll see if Noyce’s departure halts the project’s forward progress, or if Relativity can plug in a replacement and keep moving.

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