Scorsese Hopes to Adapt Dostoevsky’s The Gambler

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Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio

Martin Scorsese has many things: the respect of his filmmaking peers, a secure place in the pantheon of Hollywood’s great directors, and an Academy Award, to boot. He also has a lot of hobbies, including film preservation and rock music. Another is a longtime fascination with the works of Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, especially his novel The Gambler.

Even before 1976’s Taxi Driver, which clearly owes to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and, more notably, Notes from the Underground, the director had wanted to adapt The Gambler for the screen. In the early 1970s, he was shell-shocked when Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader gave his version of the novel to Brian De Palma instead of him. The result was Obsession.

Yet this event did not destroy Scorsese’s passion for Dostoevsky. Years later, in 1989, he offered his take on the Alexei/Polina angle from The Gambler in “Life Lessons,” his segment of the omnibus movie “New York Stories” with Woody Allen and Francis Ford Coppola. It converts the protagonist into Lionel Dobie, an aging painter played by Nick Nolte, and also stars Rosanna Arquette as Paulette, his young assistant and female object of desire.

Now, and this should not come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with how fixated Scorsese is on realizing projects dear to him[1], news has spread that he is determined to tackle The Gambler again – this time as a full-length feature. The Departed screenwriter, William Monahan, whose script finally won Scorsese the prestigious Oscar for Best Achievement in Directing, has already signed to adapt the novel for the screen. Leonardo DiCaprio, who has assumed major roles in all of the filmmaker’s features of the 2000s, is also attached as the leading man for the new version.

Yet it is hard to tell when (or if) the Scorsese/DiCaprio/Monahan reading will finally surface. The director is constantly developing new projects, many of them slated for release in the next few years, while the status of others is perfectly unclear. Hugo, his first 3D adventure, is in post-production; so is the documentary George Harrison: Living In The Material World. But, the proposed biopics on the lives of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, for instance, remain in limbo. The same goes for The Irishman, a mob flick supposed to star Scorsese’s longtime collaborators, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, as well as Al Pacino; the 17th-century thriller Silence with Daniel-Day Lewis and Gael Garcia Bernal; and The Wolf Of Wall Street, based on the memoir of white-collar criminal Jordan Belfort to be played by DiCaprio.

The Scorsese/DiCaprio/Monahan version of The Gambler will probably not see the light of day for several years, if at all. But it is certainly fun to speculate. Even though it is just one among the numerous Hollywood remakes these days, the participants involved and the story it is based on make it a very intriguing project. This writer, for one, will definitely keep an eye on it.

[1] See The Last Temptation Of Christ, which took him years to make. It was originally scheduled for theatrical release in 1983, then cancelled by Paramount Pictures, and eventually shot as a low-budget movie for Universal Pictures in 1988. Or take Gangs Of New York, which he had wanted to realize for about 25 years until he was finally able to do so in 2002.

By Torsten Reitz © 2011