Warners’ first original feature of the Warner Bros. Discovery era is here … and it’s a period mobster drama fronted by two Hollywood veterans.
Returning to the genre that made him a household name, Robert De Niro will star in Wise Guys, a feature intended for theatrical distribution that will be directed by Barry Levinson, the filmmaker known for movies such as Oscar best picture winner Rain Man and Wag the Dog.
Nicholas Pileggi, who coincidentally authored Wiseguy, the 1985 book that was the basis for the 1990 De Niro-Martin Scorsese crime classic, Goodfellas, wrote the script. Irwin Winkler, best known for producing the Rocky movies as well as being a producer on Goodfellas, is a producer.
The project is centered on Vito Genovese and Frank Costello, two Italian-American crime bosses that ran their respective families in the middle of the 20th century. In 1957, Genovese attempted to assassinate Costello but failed, although he was wounded and decided to retire, as much as one can retire from the Mafia.
De Niro would play both characters, according to sources.
Wise Guys is an interesting choice for Warners, which under new president and CEO David Zaslav has been cutting and shelving projects, re-examining its DC slate, and figuring out which movies to push ahead on a theatrical level, now that the all-in-on-streaming strategy from the previous AT&T regime has been discarded. Zaslav has championed Wise Guys, with its pickup initiated in late May under Warners’ former Toby Emmerich regime. The project doesn’t seem to have the hallmarks of a tentpole — big budgets, visual effects, big intellectual property — nor does it feel like “young Hollywood,” something that would seemingly attract the demographic most known for going to the movies. Instead, it feels like a throwback, and has a team whose average age is four score — De Niro is 78, Levinson is 80, and Winkler is 91. (The studio, run by Michael De Luca and Pam Abdy, do have Joker: Folie a Deux as their first greenlight.)
Levinson was a prestigious Hollywood player in the 1980s and 1990s, with movies such as The Natural; Good Morning, Vietnam; Bugsy and Disclosure on his résumé. One of his biggest films was Rain Man, the 1988 drama that starred Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. It was a runaway hit and won several Oscars, best picture and best director among them. Styles and tastes change, and in recent years the director has helmed features for the small screen, including HBO’s Paterno and The Wizard of Lies. The latter starred De Niro as disgraced financier Bernie Madoff and earned four Emmy nominations. De Niro and Levinson also worked together on 1997’s Wag the Dog and the 2008 Hollywood-centric tale What Just Happened.
De Niro’s recent credits include Joker for Warners as well as Scorsese’s The Irishman, which he starred in and produced for Netflix. He reteamed with Scorsese once more for Apple’s Killers of the Flower Moon, due out next year.
De Niro is repped by CAA, Levinson by WME.
— Kim Masters contributed to this story.