Pompous literature types, like Bernard Berkman of 'The Squid and the Whale' may deem Leonard's pulpy work as 'not serious' but they will always acquiesce that he is 'the fillet of the crime genre.' Unfortunately not many adaptations really meet the quality and tone the author presents. The period that really introduced me to the author was the time when, in my not so humble opinion, the best adaptations were being made. These films were 'Get Shorty' (1995), 'Jackie Brown' (1997) and 'Out of Sight' (1998). The latter having one of the coolest cameos of all time when Michael Keaton reprises his role as Ray Nicolette, a character that appears in 'Out of Sight' but plays a much more pivotal role in 'Rum Punch' (aka 'Jackie Brown'). One of the really fun things about getting into Leonard's books is seeing the many characters that crossover between them, with different levels on involvement in each story.
In case you can't tell yet, I'm a bit of a fanboy when it comes to Elmore Leonard. This is why I've been waiting for the release of the film version of 'Killshot', one of my favourite books, for over two years now. With rumors of the adaptation beginning in the late 90's (right after all those good ones I just mentioned), it's had its trials and tribulations, even after holding initial screenings in July 2006. You would think a movie produced by Tarantino, directed by John Madden ('Shakespeare in Love' not 'Monday Night Football), starring Mickey Rourke (as an Indian hitman), Joseph Gordon Levitt (as his crazy sidekick), Thomas Jane and Diane Lane (as a hot married couple being terrorized by the hitmen) wouldn't have its release date pushed back so many times. At one point it was even going to be a straight to DVD release. I gather the test screenings didn't go well, so they've been re-shooting and re-editing. All I've ever known about this film has been the changing details I see on the Internet Movie Database (imdb) whenever I check on it from time to time. I'm not sure when I had looked last before yesterday, but I have no idea when it got a January 23, 2009 release date (last Friday). I have not heard word one about its release or seen a single ad in place, but here's the trailer I found last night:
I can only presume they made a last minute decision to give it a quick and dirty release in time to capitalize on Mickey Rourke's 'Wrestler' hype. Right now it is only a limited USA release with no word on a Canadian release date yet. This is unfortunate, as much of the shooting was done here (and in Detroit). I can't wait to see if they actually shot at The Silver Dollar, a real Toronto location where we first meet Rourke's character in the book. In the years prior to production, other actors rumored for that role were Robert DeNiro and Viggo Mortenson, with Quentin Tarantino or Justin Timberlake as the sidekick. Though it would have been cool to see Viggo in that role, I've always thought the casting they went with was pretty good. Even though his name and face appear in the trailer, Johnny Knoxville is no longer listed in the cast on imdb. I read his role is one of the things that confused test audiences, but why would he still be in the trailer if he was cut out? Maybe one day I'll actually see this movie and it will all make sense. I haven't had to wait this long since 'Tideland.'
other recent Leonard adaptations.
'Killshot's Joseph Gordon Levitt is currently making his filmmaker debut at Sundance with his adaptation of the short story 'Sparks' from Leonard's compilation 'When the Women Come Out To Dance.' I re-read it when I heard about this, and to be honest, I think the story is a little dull. The short film stars Eric Stoltz as an insurance investigator and Carla Gugino as a celebrity widow suspected of arson. Levitt is seen below at the film festival in a picture (courtesy of Craig Macrae) with girlfriend (?) and actress (?) Zooey Deschanel, who's father was the cinematographer on 'Killshot,' and has worked with some of the best in Hollywood, including John Cassavetes. Zooey's mother was an actor on 'Twin Peaks'... I wish I knew all these people.
The Tonto Woman (2007)
Another short film based on a short story, this one was nominated for an Oscar last year. The Academy and/ or the film companies need to get their shit together and figure out a way to make the nominated short subject films more accessible to the public.
Freaky Deaky (2010)
I was fortunate enough to meet Elmore Leonard when he was promoting 'Be Cool,' his follow-up to 'Get Shorty.' I inquired about a story I had read about Quentin Tarantino getting caught shoplifting a Leonard book when younger, and asked if the author knew which one it was. Apparently it was 'Freaky Deaky' the very same book I was having the author sign, and what the story didn't print was that Quentin went back and was successful in his second attempt. I've since done some research and deduced that Quentin was about 25 when this book came out, and though it would still be 4 years 'til his first film credit, it's a little less innocent when it's a grown man stealing and not the pre-teen I was originally imagining. All this to say that this is another one of my favourites soon to join Leonard's film canon. This one involves 60's radicals and bombs.
Tishomingo Blues (?)
This was listed as 'in pre-production' for a while on imdb, with Matthew McConaughey starring and Don Cheadle directing and co-starring. McConaughey would be perfect as the ex-stunt man turned high dive performer at a Casino. The third act of the story unfolds during a civil war re-enactment, these old-meeting-new themes made it feel like instant vintage Leonard, though the book only came out in 2002. It's too bad that it appears plans for this movie have been scrapped, it looked promising.
Elmore Leonard's next book 'Road Dogs' comes out May 2009.