Just as the east coast was going to bed and/or gearing up for Hurricane Irene and the west coast was gearing up to go out on the town, it was announced that “The Departed” trifecta of director Martin Scorsese, writer William Monahan and star Leonardo DiCaprio were all taking on a remake of Karel Reisz‘s 1974 film “The Gambler.” If you missed the news, don’t worry, you’re not the only one as that film’s writer James Toback, was only hipped to the project thanks to housemate Brett Ratner (yes, they apparently live together). Needless to say, he was pissed.
Over the weekend, the writer/director penned an open letter and posted it to Deadline, outlining his disgust with not even being given a cursory call about the project. So why is Toback so mad? Well, “The Gambler” — about a successful English professor who succumbs to a gambling addition — is a highly autobiographical film about the writer’s own struggles with addiction. Essentially, they are taking his own life story and remaking it, without contacting him at the very least Toback’s feelings are hurt. The feeling is exacerbated by the fact that the film’s original producer Irwin Winkler is involved in the new version, as is Leonardo DiCaprio who at one time was eyeing a project called “Harvard Man” with Toback to direct and he feels that somebody should have reached out to him.
“…but the truth is that my main feeling was one of disbelief that I was learning of these plans at the same time and in the same fashion as any of the regular devoted readers of this column. It struck me as particularly odd since I have been a friend and unlimited admirer of Leonardo’s since our initial encounter in 1994 when we were, in fact, all set to close a deal on his playing the lead in ‘Harvard Man’ – a deal sabotaged only by Bob Shaye’s overriding the greenlight which Mike DeLuca had conveyed to Jeff Berg and Jay Moloney,” Toback wrote. “Equally odd was not hearing anything from Irwin Winkler who, I was soon to learn, is to be the producer on this projected new version as he was on the original.”
Toback is an industry veteran and so stranger to remakes. In fact, he particularly points out that Jacques Audiard — who remade his “Fingers” into the critically acclaimed “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” — at least had the courtesy to meet extensively with Toback before embarking on the new film. “…not sharing the current group’s quaint — if indeed entirely legal — notion that as long as they ‘own’ something — even a movie — they are fully entitled to do whatever they wish to it without even bothering to consult its creator,” Toback wrote.
And while Toback recognizes no one is obliged to include him in any plans for a new version of “The Gambler,” he believes at least some courtesy from the filmmakers should be too much to ask. “So learning of the plan to ‘remake’ my movie at the same time and in the same fashion as any other devoted reader of this esteemed column, I suppose I should feel… what? That a tribute is being paid to a creation I left behind? I suppose. But one doesn’t always feel what one is supposed to feel,” he explained, adding, “Rudeness, on the other hand, and disrespect yield their own unanticipated consequences.”
So, what to we make of all this? It is a little slimy that no one bothered to call Toback? Sure. Is it anything different the usual cutthroat routine of Hollywood? Not really. Not that it justifies it, but we can’t say we’re entirely surprised that somebody that everyone looked at the three decade year old movie and didn’t bother to find out if Toback might be at least want to give his input. But honestly, this is nothing that a phone call from Marty can’t smooth over.
Anyway, Toback’s letter is a fascinating read and if anything, that guy needs to write a memoir. His account of the development of “The Gambler” is pretty interesting, particularly when it comes to casting — he really wanted Robert DeNiro for the lead role, while Warren Beatty and Robert Redford were other names being tossed around before it landed with James Caan. Read it in full over at Deadline.