months ago, it looked as though Don Winslow’s aging hitman saga, The Winter of Frankie Machine, was going to be the (potentially) perfect coda to the Martin Scorsese/Robert De Niro mobster trio of Mean Streets, Goodfellas and Casino. Alas, it didn’t work out.

But, in a semi-inversion of what went down with The Aviator, Michael Mann has now stepped in to replace Martin Scorsese (who was actually never signed in the first place). This is, I think, a more-than-acceptable trade-off.

Before you get too excited, I should note that Mann has only signed to develop Frankie Machine (as it’s now being called). And while Brian Koppelman and David Levien seemed an ideal duo to adapt Winslow’s tome, their draft is now getting what Variety‘s Michael Fleming terms a "major overhaul" by Alex Tse (who re-tooled David Hayter’s script for Watchmen before getting re-re-tooled himself by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman).

On the recommendation of CHUD‘s Cameron Hughes, I picked up Winslow’s book and zipped through it in a couple of days. It’s a very strong piece of material, by which I mean the elements are all there. That said, it’ll definitely take some finessing (or, mostly, jettisoning) to get the novel to play as a feature; and most of the work will almost certainly center on the character of Mike Pella.

The premise has Frank "The Machine" Machianno getting dragged out of beach bum retirement – he now runs a bait shop in San Diego, and surfs during "Gentlemen’s Hour" every day – for, of course, one last hit. And, wouldn’t you know it, the hit is a double-cross intended to rub out Frank. Being that he’s an exceptionally skilled murderer, Frank survives this betrayal and goes on the run, all the while realizing that his time is finite. But before he takes the seemingly inevitable kill shot, he’s determined to find out why his neck is on the block. As expected, lots of people die in the process.

Should Tse re-work the script to Mann’s liking, this will be the second pairing for Mann and De Niro. Their last collaboration? Heat. It’s going to be very hard to not get unreasonably excited over this project.