Getting Justified

Posted on May 19, 2010

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“I wasn’t in a shoot-out, I was just near one.” – US Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens

My wife and I watch Justified every week. Elmore Leonard is writer and producer. You might know him better as the man behind Get Shorty and Be Cool. Now, I like Elmore Leonard. I’ve watched a bunch of his stuff, as far back as Joe Kidd and Mr. Majestyk. In watching the ups and downs of Justified’s first season, I reached a conclusion – and Hollywood studio honchos should pay attention, because I’m going to give away the secret to Elmore Leonard greatness.

The secret, to paraphrase Chili Palmer, is to say as little as possible, if that.

The most successful Elmore Leonard protagonists say the least. They’re not just quiet, they are ciphers. The exist to be the backdrop against which minor characters project their eccentricities. The protagonist moves through the store as a puzzled, sometimes amused, observer. Only when some other character directly threatens the protagonist, or those the protagonist values most, does the protagonist act.

Think about that while watching Clint Eastwood in Joe Kidd, Charles Bronson in Mr. Majestyk, Van Heflin or Christian Bale in 3:10 to Yuma (depending on whether you watch the 1957 or the 2007 version), John Travolta in Get Shorty, Robert Forster in Jackie Brown, or even George Clooney in Out of Sight. Then think about it while watching Burt Reynolds in Stick, or John Travolta in Be Cool. In Get Shorty, he’s quiet. He says as little as possible, if that. In Be Cool he’s much more talkative and much more active. The first movie worked, the second didn’t work as well, even though it’s the same actor playing the same part written by the same man.

So there’s the secret to success with Elmore Leonard material, Hollywood: Say as little as possible, if that.

“I’ve been standin’ on one leg for three damn years waitin’ for God to do me a favor… and He ain’t listenin’.” – Dan Evans

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Posted in: Movies