I have been on a bit of an Elmore Leonard kick here lately. His work has everything I like about country noir, but in an easily digestible, popcorn style and form. My gateway to Elmore Leonard was the great Justified (which I still need to buy on blu-ray, rewatch, and blog about extensively). I was admittedly thrown off by my first Elmore Leonard novel, Raylan. Raylan suffered from covering ground already covered by the show. But it really suffered from eastern Kentucky not being Leonard’s turf. His work is always better in Florida, I think.
Get Shorty (movie)
Get Shorty adapts the Leonard book by the same name. Get Shorty is known for a few things: playing a key role in John Travolta’s career resurgence, having a terrible sequel (Be Cool is on my to-watch list but I’m not in a hurry), and sending up movie industry culture. Travolta’s Chili Palmer is a loan shark who very quickly decides he wants to go into the movie business. Get Shorty has a killer cast and perfectly captures Leonard’s snappy dialogue and mostly knucklehead crooks.
Maximum Bob (audiobook narrated by Richard Poe)
The titular Maximum Bob (he prefers “Big”) is a philandering state court judge known for his harsh sentences. Big was surely the primary inspiration for federal judge Mike “the Hammer” Reardon from Justified. Big isn’t nearly as likeable as the Hammer—his first courtroom appearance put the lawyer in me in a permanent cringe—but he is a bit of a minor character in his own novel. The star, instead, is probation officer Kathy Baker, and members of the extended Crowe family (another Justified tie) round up much of the rest of the character list. Does it get any more Florida Man and Leonard than attempted murder by alligator? Maximum Bob was adapted into a very short-lived TV show of the same name. Poe’s narration is damn near perfect for the story.
Jackie Brown (movie)
Jackie Brown adapts Leonard’s novel Rum Punch. A flight attendant gets caught between a rock (the ATF) and a hard place (her gun runner employer) when she gets caught sneaking cash and cocaine into the country. She immediately sets about playing everybody off of everybody. The baroque, noir-ish plot absolutely works. The cast is, again, great. I haven’t seen Pam Grier in anything else, but she is TERRIFIC here. Jackie Brown is the least Tarantino-y of all of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, and thus the best. It is no accident that Get Shorty and Jackie Brown are widely viewed as two of the three best adaptations of Leonard’s novels.
Out of Sight (audiobook narrated by George Guidall)
Jack Foley, a bank robber with a long rap sheet and an even longer list of bank conquests, has a meet-cute with federal marshal Karen Sisco outside the state prison he is escaping. A romantic and criminal cat-and-mouse game ensues in both Florida and Detroit. Leonard is a Detroit guy, so I was glad to pick up one of his novels set there in significant part. Foley and his right-hand man Buddy are debonair, competent criminals very much not in the mold of Leonard’s more usual knuckleheads. The rest of the crooks, on the other hand . . . The chief and maybe only failing of the novel and audio narration is that it fails to convey the intended romantic tension and chemistry. Movies are always a crapshoot when it comes to chemistry, but the George Clooney-Jennifer Lopez adaptation is lauded for it. Karen Sisco also got a short-lived TV show and (probably) made a cameo appearance on Justified sans-last name. I would be hard pressed to choose between Richard Poe’s narration of Maximum Bob and Guidall’s narration of Out of Sight—both are outstanding.
3 thoughts on “Short Review Roundup: Elmore Leonard Edition”
Jackie Brown is my favorite Tarantino movie. I think because he didn’t write it he was able to reign in his overindulgent qualities that make his later movies with the exception of OAATIH unwatchable.
I like Get Shorty and Be Cool has its funny moments with The Rock.
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I remember liking the Raylan Givens books, but I did not care for Get Shorty. It had snappy dialogue but it did not have much else. (I’ve never seen Justified or the Get Shorty movie.)
I liked Riding the Rap just fine. I just don’t think Leonard was ever as comfortable writing in Eastern Kentucky as he was Florida and Detroit. I also own a copy of The Moonshine War, written in 1969, so the later Raylan stories were not Leonard’s first venture into Kentucky.