Get Shorty Review
It’s now got to the point where you can’t read a new Elmore Leonard novel without imagining the actors who will star in its screen adaptation. Last Christmas, as I was making my way through one of his recent novels, the brilliant Pagan Babies, I kept seeing Harvey Keitel as the priest/con-man Terry Dunn. Funnily enough (and there’s a little spoiler here) Keitel turns up in ‘Get Shorty’, as does Bette Midler, both in unbilled cameos and both fitting perfectly into the assembly of big shots, wise-guys and wannabes that make up the film’s cast of characters. In fact, perfect casting is one of the film’s many strengths, along with a snappy soundtrack, terrific camerawork and a screenplay that successfully balances the stylised realism of Leonard’s deadpan dialogue with an edge of Tarantino violence. No wonder that Leonard himself said that ‘Get Shorty’ was the first movie taken from one of his books to “get it”.
When his boss Momo dies from a heart attack, loan shark Chili Palmer (Travolta) is ordered by Ray Barboni (Farina) to collect on a bad debt from dry cleaner Leo (Paymer), recently believed deceased in a jet crash. Learning from Leo’s wife Fay (Hart) that Leo is not dead, Chili tracks him to Las Vegas, where casino boss Dick Allen (Slayton) informs him that he’s gone to L.A. Allen also asks Chili to collect on another bad debt, this time from B-movie producer Harry Zimm (Hackman). In Hollywood Chili tells Zimm and actress Karen (Russo) about his idea for a film…
Zimm owes $200,000 to coke dealer Bo Catlett (Lindo) who has left $500,000 in an airport locker as payment to drug kingpin Mr Escobar (Sandoval), whose nephew Yayo (Vargas) Bo decides to kill. Chili agrees to negotiate for Zimm with Bo and his heavy Bear (Gandolfini) in return for being let in on a brilliant new script that has the attention of famed actor Martin Weir (DeVito). However, Bo wants in on the movie too, and first Barboni and then Mr Escobar turn up in L.A, neither of them particularly happy…
MGM released a 2-disk Special Edition of ‘Get Shorty’ to coincide with the theatrical release of its sequel ‘Be Cool’. Suffice to say that if you get this terrific DVD, there's no need to bother with its lacklustre follow up.
‘Get Shorty’ is presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks great. Directed by a cinematographer, you’d expected the film to be beautifully lit and it is, throughout. The transfer is extremely clean and clear, the blacks rock solid and the colours bold. This was a pleasure to watch. Also, the menu screens are very well done, with a nifty 'Zimm Films' clapperboard effect.
A plethora of 5.1 soundtracks is available, so German, French, Italian and Spanish viewers don’t get stiffed with a two-channel dub this time. John Lurie’s soundtrack and the featured songs from Booker T and the MGs, US3 and others sound crystal clear, as does the dialogue. It’s a nicely balanced, cleanly presented soundtrack. The only thing that was missing was the surrounds; almost nothing comes at you from behind, just the odd swooping plane and occasional swell of music.
Here's where fans of Sonnenfeld, Leonard et al are in for a treat.
This has Barry Sonnenfeld’s commentary. Anyone who has seen Sonnenfeld’s interview on the ‘Miller’s Crossing’ DVD will know what to expect. He’s a laconic New York Jew with a sense of humour so dry it belongs in Death Valley. Accordingly, he’s full of advice: “Shoot as little of a movie on a moving car as possible,” and “If you’ve got John Travolta in your movie, get him to walk as much as possible.” I also liked his summing up of Rene Russo’s life: “A great husband. A great kid. A great body.” There’s also a lot of information about where and when specific scenes were shot, how the actors worked and how the editing and design were carried out. Not the best commentary track I've ever heard but not the worst either.
Here's where the bulk of the Special Features are found, consisting of 'Featurettes', 'Deleted Scene', 'Photo Gallery', 'Theatrical Trailer' and 'Subtitles'.
The Featurettes are many and varied. As usual, their titles are somewhat arbitrary as their actual content tends to stray somewhat from their stated intention. Get Shorty: Look At Me is the big making-of, a 25-minute piece with contributions from all the cast and main crew. Scott Frank the screenwriter, describes the terrifying experience of being the umpteenth writer to try and bring Leonard’s text to the screen. Quentin Tarantino was roped in to persuade Travolta to do it when he turned it down the first time. Sonnefeld describes how his first choice for Chili Palmer was Danny DeVito!
At just under 20 minutes, Get Shorty: Wiseguys and Dolls is a closer look at some of Leonard’s characters as they appear in the film, including Karen Flores, Ray Barboni and so on, although it morphs into a piece on how the film was shot. Basically it's a continuation of the 'Look at Me' featurette.
Introduced by a shaggy-looking Peter Gallagher, Page to Screen: Get Shorty looks at the long journey ‘Get Shorty’ took from Leonard’s first concept, the book’s construction, arrival on the bestseller list and absorption into Hollywood. Some of the material here repeats that of the earlier featurettes, but there’s still a lot of great stuff here, plus commentary from a variety of new sources including a regally inflamed Martin Amis, a typically hyperactive Quentin Tarantino and the real Chili Palmer.
Going Again is a funny five-minute piece looking at the shooting of the scene where Palmer and Flores visit famous actor Martin Weir at his palatial Hollywood mansion. There’s copious footage of Danny DeVito’s many takes. The Get Shorty Party Reel is the usual bloopers. Be Cool, Be Very Cool is an eight minute promo piece for the ill-starred sequel.
Perhaps the best special feature is the Deleted Scene. Yep, there’s only the one, the infamous ‘Graveyard Scene’ in which Chili Palmer visits the set of one of Harry Zimm’s schlock horror flicks. There’s a four-minute mini-featurette setting the context for the scene and why it had to be cut, then the scene itself. It runs a little over three minutes and has Zimm telling a youthful director helming one of his pictures (played by Ben Stiller) to stop throwing the camera around.
The Special Features are rounded off with the Photo Gallery and the Theatrical Trailer which lasts just under two and a half minutes. Flick around the menu screens, though, and you can find some extra material, including a glimpse at Danny DeVito in hyper mode describing his purchase of the ‘Get Shorty’ property and Barry Sonnenfeld’s explaining the greatest part of being a director (it's about coffee).
Subtitles for the special features are the same as for the main feature.
‘Get Shorty’ still holds up today. It’s great fun to watch and stands as one of the few Leonard adaptations (‘Jackie Brown’ and ‘Out of Sight’ are two others) to transfer Leonard’s gift for characterisation and language to the screen. The new Special Edition sounds good and looks great and the Special Features will make it a worthwhile purchase for anyone who likes the film. Recommended.