News broke today that iconic director Martin Scorsese has signed on to direct a biopic of Frank Sinatra. On the surface, this seems like a natural fit. Scorsese has deep roots in Italian-American culture (Goodfellas), mid-20th century Americana (The Aviator), and has built successful films around charismatic, complicated male characters (Raging Bull, Casino). The problem, though, is that most of Scorsese’s best work is raw, kinetic, and contemporary. Think Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, Mean Streets, The Departed — even Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. The content of these films matches Scorsese’s restless personal energy and roaming-camera shooting style. When he gets into period movies lately the result is — I’ll just say it: ponderous. Aviator and Gangs of New York both felt so freighted by the crushing weight of their historical precision that the films seemed suffocated.
I’m also not heartened by the news, from one of the film’s producers, that Leonardo DiCaprio is at the front of the line to play Old Blue Eyes. There’s no doubt he’s a fine actor, and probably a cool casting choice, but the Sinatra film would become the fifth movie Scorsese and DiCaprio make together. (Their fourth, a 1954 thriller called Shutter Island, comes out this fall.) I think it may be time for both men to see other people. And for Scorsese to make a modern film again before he gets so mired in the amber of some idealized 1950s America that he never gets around to helping us make sense of our own crazy 21st century. But what do you think, Popwatchers? Am I being too harsh on Marty, or is it time for him to give the period movies a rest?
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