Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Winter of Frankie Machine

I recently finished this short novel by Don Winslow and I was duly impressed. Take the humor of the Sopranos, the gritty crime drama of Thief, and move it all to the fresh landscape of San Diego, which hasn't been played out as a mob city. Frankie Machianno is an old surfer dude who runs the pier's bait shop, and has a seafood business among the local restaurants. While not exactly a pillar of the community, he's a well-liked member of it.

But in another life, he was Frankie Machine, a sniper in Vietnam and a legendary hitter for the mob. And as these stories go, someone now wants him dead. But they should have let sleeping dogs lie...

It was a great quick read, a cut above most thrillers and quite funny at times. Winslow has the Italian-American life and lingo down pat, from agita to the obsession over sauce and other little touches of authenticity. It reminded me a bit of older Elmore Leonard, because Frankie Machine is one resourceful old sonofabitch; but he's no Johnny Sixpack up against the mob, he's one of their own, and one of the best. A clever hit gets put out on him, and he has to delve into his past to find out why. I don't want to give away the twists and turns, which are surprises without being too outlandish.

Overall, it's a gripping thriller with enough character and background to keep it from being one of those "airport paperbacks" that you buzz through and forget about the next day. In fact, it's being made into a movie next year by Michael Mann, with Bobby DeNiro playing the lead. When I read it, I thought of Ed Harris as the lead, but soon the late Roy Scheider seemed perfect for it. Resurrection being beyond the skills of modern science, Bobby D will do a decent job. Mike Pella, Frankie's buddy from the old days, is so easily imagined as Joe Pesci that I hope the two get together again, though it's probably not the best idea.

Originally Marty Scorsese was attached to direct.

I imagine the surfing will be cut out of the movie, unless DeNiro goes back to his old ways of getting into character and learns how to surf a longboard. It's not an integral part of the tale, but it is part of what makes Frankie Machine a fresh and interesting character. We all know East Coast mob guys with a big tripe and Cadillac. Let's have an old surfer dude this time. We can forgive Bobby his accent, but I hope he drops it for a California one. He did it for Cape Fear, though I'm afraid that was a long time ago. If Michael Mann can whip a fine performance out of him again, we'll have a great crime movie to watch next year. In fact, if he looks like he did in that picture, it would be perfect.


Thomas Pluck said...

This is an oldie. I hope the movie still gets made- Savages ought to push that along. It's frightening how much Bobby D resembles my father in this photo. And part of the allure of Frankie was how well crafted the character is. Mr Winslow captures that generation perfectly.

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