I love Elmore Leonard. I’ve scoured dozens of bookstores for $1 copies of his paperbacks and only have one left after lending and giving them away. I couldn’t recommend any one of them to anybody; they’re fast reads and all pretty much on par in terms of quality.
But on the occasion of his death, I thought I’d put together a quick list of motion picture adaptations of his books. A lot of the movies made from his books are pretty terrible; the books are less cinematic then they seem, due to loose plots and long, languid dialogue driven scenes. As an illustration, spend a pleasant afternoon reading the book “The Big Bounce” followed by an unpleasant evening watching the movie “The Big Bounce.”
5. Get Shorty. Honestly, the source material is kind of a mediocre late period Leonard book. Hollywood loves making movies about itself because it feeds its own narcissism but those movies tend to be pretty good because the filmmakers actually know the subject matter pretty well. Everybody’s a little too arch and the jokes are a little too obvious (like the minivan bullshit) but it mostly works. Avoid both the book and movie sequels. Despite the presence of Duane “The Rock” Johnson in a Bootsy Collins afro it’s a sad waste of time.
4. Jackie Brown. I’m not going to pretend this is a great movie. It’s a great job of casting, scene setting and music selection in search of a good movie. But it’s a pretty good vibe and it’s nice to see Robert De Niro take a bong hit. In the book, the guys watching the gun video talk about Miami Vice. Tarantino changed it to John Woo movies. Fucking film nerd.
3. Mr. Majestyk. It’s ’70s action cornball, but mostly in a good way. In Elmore Leonard’s books, tough guys say cool shit and weaklings back down. In real life, it’s rare that people are intimidated by one-liners no matter how well crafted they are. It looks like bullshit when you see people act it out. Charles Bronson says shit like “”you make sounds like you’re a mean little ass-kicker only I ain’t convinced. You keep talking and I’m gonna take your head off” and it seems like he means it.
2. Justified. The makers of the TV show took the best character from one of Leonard’s worst books, along with the vibe and the strut and spun it out into southern-fried noir. Now everybody knows what a “holler” is and we’re the better for it.
1. Out of Sight. Leonard didn’t plot out his books. He would think of some characters in a situation and improvise actions based on what he thought made sense for them. Thats part of why he’s so prolific and part of why his books are so often good and so rarely great. Steven Soderberg chopped up and screwed with a pretty straightforward story about a bankrobber escaping prison and falling in love with a female pursuer. The out of sequence telling makes the story more interesting and it allows for a murderer’s row of great character actors to have great moments. Hell, even J-Lo acquits herself nicely.