Reading Bull: Three Books That Inspired Martin Scorsese Films

It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers of all time. In a career spanning seven decades he has directed iconic movies, from Mean Streets and Taxi Driver in the 1970s, through to gangster epic The Irishman in 2019.

Many of his critically acclaimed films have been adapted from books, allowing audiences to experience rich worlds and complex characters through Scorsese’s lens. There are many to pick from — including Raging Bull, The Wolf of Wall Street, Gangs of New York, and The Last Temptation of Christ — but here we’ll take a look at three fascinating books behind captivating films.

Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi
The second collaboration between Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi, Casino explores the Mafia’s influence in Las Vegas during the 1970s and 1980s. The book provides a gripping account of the real-life events surrounding Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, a casino executive, and Tony Spilotro, a Chicago mobster. Pileggi’s meticulous research and his ability to weave together intricate details of the criminal underworld make Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas a page-turner.

Scorsese’s film adaptation, Casino, is a tour de force, capturing the unique atmosphere that permeated the casinos of that era. Since the movie’s release in 1995, the entire casino industry has changed significantly, with whole new demographics playing via their mobiles.

You might not see Robert De Niro hanging out by the card tables, but instead dabbling in online casino betting at Paddy Power, part of the new landscape of the casino industry. While the glitz of Las Vegas remains an attractive pull for thousands of visitors a year, the iGaming industry has become a behemoth in its own right, thanks to virtual alternatives to classic games like live blackjack and roulette.

Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi
Goodfellas, widely regarded as one of the greatest gangster films of all time, is based on the non-fiction book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi. The book recounts the true story of Henry Hill, a former mobster turned informant, who spent more than thirty years in the witness protection program, from 1980 until his death in 2012.

Pileggi’s vivid portrayal of Hill’s life in the Italian-American Mafia serves as the foundation for Scorsese’s film, which is smooth and stylish without flinching from the gritty details. Through compelling storytelling, Wiseguy delves into the seductive allure of organised crime, the loyalty, and betrayal within its ranks, and the dark consequences that inevitably appear. Scorsese expertly captures the book’s essence, creating an intense and immersive narrative that showcases the rise and fall of Henry Hill.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
Dennis Lehane’s psychological thriller Shutter Island serves as the basis for Scorsese’s film of the same name. The story follows U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels as he investigates the disappearance of a patient from a mental institution located on the remote Shutter Island. As Teddy delves deeper into the case, he uncovers dark secrets and confronts his own troubled past.

Lehane’s atmospheric writing and intricate plotting create a sense of paranoia and suspense throughout the novel, which Scorsese masterfully translates onto the screen. A glance at Rotten Tomatoes confirms that, although it didn’t receive the acclaim of some of the director’s other movies, the film is noted for its gripping atmosphere and visual aesthetics.

These three films showcase Martin Scorsese’s masterful direction, impeccable casting, and ability to capture the essence of whatever source material he uses. Whether it’s exploring the world of organised crime, the dark underbelly of the casino industry, or the depths of the human psyche, he can stories and ideas that inspire him and amplify them for the cinema.

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