By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com June 11, 2011 at 2:00AM
Levinson Talks Prospect Of Helming Mob Epic 'Gotti: Three Generations'
For someone who's almost incontestably one of the greatest living American novelists (there will always be naysayers...) Philip Roth has never fared well on the big screen. "Goodbye, Columbus is mostly forgotten, but fairly decent, but "Portnoy's Complaint," "The Human Stain" and "Elegy" (an adaptation of "The Dying Animal") were all disasters of varying degrees, despite excellent source material. But Hollywood ain't done with Roth yet, with news breaking that a veteran director and star, fresh off a recent success together, are joining forces again to adapt a recent work from the author.
Deadline reports that Al Pacino and Barry Levinson, who worked together last year on the Emmy-winning HBO movie "You Don't Know Jack," are teaming again for an adaptation of the 2009 Roth book "The Humbling." The project's actually been in the works for a while, with it first being reported at the start of last year, but the film now has financing, courtesy of Millennium/Nu Image, and will shoot in the fall, before the duo team up yet again on the mobster picture "Gotti: Three Generations."
The plot will see Pacino play a veteran stage actor with a much younger former-lesbian lover (yet to be cast). It's an intriguing prospect to be sure (and one that we hope will shake Pacino out of the funk he's been in for most of his recent roles, 'Jack' aside), although it's worth noting that the source material was one of Roth's less well-received books of recent years. However, the script comes from Levinson, newcomer Michal Zebede and, most excitingly, "The Graduate" scribe Buck Henry, so there's some degree of pedigree on the page, even aside from Roth's original material.
Levinson also spilled the beans on 'Gotti,' on which he agreed to replace Nick Cassavettes recently, to Deadline. Despite the troubling prospect of John Gotti Jr as a consultant and producer on the film, the director (who's co-writing the script alongside James Toback) remains confident that it won't be a puff piece: "In order to rewrite it, I want the specificity he brings into the personal life of the Gotti family. To have those insights from someone who was that high up, gives us an opportunity to develop a piece of material that feels like something new. There's plenty about Gotti we know from the public record, but he can provide the shadings and the mechanics we don't know. He's not telling me the story of John Gotti Sr, but rather the story of the last famous don and the son who follows in his footsteps, comes into power and ultimately decides, I don't want this. How do you get out of that life? It was the end of the Mafia as we know it and here was this guy, trying to breaking the cycle, saying, 'I want to have a life that's not this life... never approach a movie on the basis of, who's sympathetic, who's the hero? For me it's always, is this a fascinating enough character to hold my attention as a moviegoer? Without question. Did I look at Bugsy Siegel as a hero? Absolutely not."
Indeed, Levinson is hopeful that the film could end up bringing something new to what some would argue is an overplayed genre: "There have been some great films about mobsters, seminal pieces, and what you need is to reevaluate this for this particular time. "The Godfather" in the 70s almost single-handedly redefined mob movies for its time. You can look at these landmark pieces, and I think we have a way here to tell a story we haven't quite seen before, because of the insight and different way of seeing that life that nobody has gotten before."
Whether it works remains to be seen: the press stunt feeling so far, and the casting of John Travolta and Lindsay Lohan alongside Pacino aren't necessarily a comfort. But that film's a way off, unlikely to go before cameras until 2012, and hopefully the time will help to make something special. In the meantime, Levinson will shoot "The Humbling," he was circling Oklahoma bomber picture "O.K.C," and he's already wrapped a low-budget horror flick, "The Bay," which will likely start to do the festival rounds towards the end of this year.