Last week I heard that Michael Mann was pretty well focused on directing Robert De Niro in Frankie Machine, a script by David Levien and Brian Koppelman that’s based on Don Winslow‘s “The Winter of Frankie Machine,” about an aging hit man who’s hounded out of retirement as the target of a hit himself.

Mann has had a hard time getting his projects set up since the financial failure of Miami Vice — two films that would have starred Leonardo Di Caprio (including an adaptation of For Whom The Bell Tolls) couldn’t get funded. I know he’s working on and may eventually direct a John Logan script called Empire for Columbia Pictures, with Will Smith starring. But Frankie Machine, which Martin Scorsese bailed out of directing last August, seemed…I don’t know, like a good and natural thing for Mann to direct. After reading it, I mean. Guns, intrigue, tough guys, good story.

So I called Mann’s office to ask if what I’d been told was true. “Inaccurate information” is what his assistant said he said. An hour or so later semi-retired PMK/HBH publicist Pat Kingsley called to reiterate that Mann hasn’t a clue what he’s doing next — maybe Empire, maybe he’ll concentrate on writing a script about Russian operative Alexander Litvinenko…who knew? I was fairly sure I was being lied to, but it didn’t seem important enough to make a big stink over. I let it go.

Tonight Variety‘s Michael Fleming reported that Mann has cut a deal at Paramount Pictures to develop Frankie Machine as a star vehicle for De Niro, with Alex Tse set to do a “major overhaul” of the concept under Mann’s supervision and De Niro and Jane Rosenthal, co-chiefs of Tribeca Films, producing.