In the early days of “The Sopranos,” I remember seeing comparisons of James Gandolfini’s character to Don Corleone from the Godfather trilogy as a shorthand in describing the HBO show. Gandolfini obviously gave Tony Soprano his own characterization separate from Coppola’s most famous works, but now it appears that the metaphorical connecting line between the two entities has been plucked once again – this time with a couple of the actors involved.
When Gandolfini died earlier this year, he was in the midst of working on some new TV and film-related projects. One of those works is a seven-part HBO miniseries called “Criminal Justice,” which would have starred the award-winning actor as an ambulance-chasing New York City attorney who bites off more than he can chew when he takes the case of a Pakistani man accused of murdering a girl in the city’s Upper West Side. Now Deadline reports that none other than Robert De Niro will take over that role in the miniseries, which is slated to shoot this March.
De Niro was reportedly the only name on the producers’ list as a possible replacement, and because Gandolfini was so passionate about developing this project during the last months of his life (he will retain a posthumous executive producer credit), they wanted to go ahead with the show as a way to honor him. De Niro, presumably temporarily tired of taking paycheck gigs in the movies, responded well to the material; I’m hoping the personal stake in this project will actually result in a worthwhile performance that hearkens back to the actor’s glory days, before Fockers sequels and generally terrible films became the norm for him.
Richard Price wrote “Criminal Justice,” which is based on a BBC series by Peter Moffat (no relation to “Sherlock” creator Steven Moffatt). Steve Zaillian, who wrote Schindler’s List and Moneyball (among many others), will direct the first hour. This has been his pet project for the past four years, and he’ll executive produce as well. The project sounds like it could be racially charged but also has tremendous potential for some excellent performances; if it’s anything like the quality of programming HBO has been putting out lately, we’re sure to be pleased with the final product. Here’s hoping De Niro pulls out all the stops for this one.
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