Thursday, November 29, 2007

DeNiro Signs On as Mob Hit Man, Frankie Machine

The announcement that De Niro is set to star in Frankie Machine with Michael Mann rumored to direct had me running to the bookstore looking for the source material. The film is based on The Winter of Frankie Machine, a novel by Don Winslow. I picked up the book and devoured it, keeping in mind Mann’s new digitized visual style and De Niro as the lead.

The premise for the film (from Imdb.com) is listed as:

An ex-mob hit man (De Niro) living in rural comfort is lured back into his former profession by the scheming son of a Mafia Don.

Now, the book isn’t the script and it’s certainly not going to be the film, but it does give an indication as to what the primary building blocks of the project will be. With that in mind, I took a few notes. Some of the elements seem tailor-made for Mann as a storyteller; others (one in particular) would be unique for him. For De Niro, it’s a perfect fit.

Location: The setting is primarily San Diego, California. This is a landscape that Michael Mann knows well and can easily deliver on: the beaches of California, nightclubs, scenes in the back seats of limos, safe houses, all under the cover of night. Winslow seemed to be writing his locations with Mann in mind.

Characters: One word – Mafia. The story features a sprinkling of civilians by way of the family Frank has built over the years (ex-wife, daughter, lover), as well as Dave Hansen, an FBI agent and friend to Frank. Hansen and Machine have a grudging respect for each other, which is due, seemingly, to the individual code of honor each has toward life and work. Frankie Machine is a made man who leads a meticulous, controlled, life. Now well past 50 years old, he is a man now at peace who savors his morning egg and onion bagel. Frankie is the type of man who takes the time to roast and grind his own coffee beans, oil an old butcher’s block for months to bring it back to life, and create and nurture a fake ID (bills, rental house, etc.), just in case it’s needed. Frank was a sniper in Vietnam and learned his lessons well. If a man needed a bullet to the head, you called Frankie Machine. This is the type of character Michael Mann knows well.

Plot: Ex-mob hit man (De Niro) does favors for the son of the Mafia don only to find it’s a double-cross situation, and must now find out who wants him dead and why.

Violence: Controlled, but R-rated. This isn’t the type of violence you would find in a Scorsese film, but the gristle is there in a shotgun-to-the-face kind of way. The question is whether it happens on-screen or off. In some passages of the book, the blood spurts right off the page. But for the most part this will be no more shocking than most of Mann’s previous films.

Issue of note: Throughout the story Frank is searching his memory for who it may be that wants him dead and why. This sends him back into many, if not all, of his Mafia-related hits. The story itself is told in two parts, half present day and half in flashbacks that take him from being a teenager, through his military days, and up to present day. If the structure of the story is kept intact as a script, this would be the first film Michael Mann tells in flash-backs.

Innovation: There is an opportunity here for some very clean, seamless CGI by way of character animation. We all know what De Niro looked like at almost every age, from early his early 20's (Taxi Driver) through his 30’s and 40’s. Rather than hiring Shia LeBeouf to play an unbelievable young De Niro, why not have De Niro act the part, voice the part, and let the CGI alchemists push his age back to the proper time?

It was done seamlessly in X-Men: The Last Stand with both Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen so why not here?!? There is every reason to do so and no reason whatsoever not to. If handled in a classic, clean, manner, it would send the critics and fans alike back again and again to see the young De Niro (without the Taxi Driver Mohawk) tromping through the bush of Vietnam or putting his first bullet into a mooch that seriously deserved it, even if he was already dead (you’ll have to read the book to find out what I mean).

Conclusion: This could become the event film of 2009. This could be the De Niro film everyone has been waiting for. With Mann at the helm and if he taps into the technology available, this could become a high-water mark for both actor and director.

Thanks to Cole Drumb

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