November 30, 2010


What would Elmore Leonard do?: 'Justified’ is that rare thing, an Elmore Leonard adaptation that honours the elusive brilliance of his writing. As the hit TV series comes to DVD, David Gritten dials up the Dickens of Detroit.
' (David Gritten, 26 Nov 2010, The Telegraph)

Too often, on screen, his humour is ill-advisedly made coarser and broader, presumably to capture a mass audience. But this approach is doomed; something gets lost in translation. Those initials on the writers’ wristbands proved their determination not to make that error. They were committed to honouring his unique and subtle comic spirit.

Leonard feels positive about Justified, which made its British debut on Five USA a few months ago and is out on DVD this week. “I love the show,” he says. His verdict is shared by those of us who rate it as easily the best new American series to reach these shores this year.

Its central character is Raylan Givens, a Kentucky-born US Marshal in a cowboy hat who blotted his career copybook in a Miami restaurant by shooting dead a local hoodlum who ignored his order to leave town. (His defence – the hood pulled his gun first – cut little ice with his superiors.) Re-assigned to Kentucky, he investigates the activities of an old friend with whom he once mined coal. This man, Boyd Crowder, has started a white supremacist group, and probably bombed a black church with a rocket-propelled grenade. Still, Givens and Crowder grew up together and are friendly when they reunite. It’s a recurring theme in Leonard’s novels that lawmen and criminals are cut from similar cloth.

Givens, who has a droll, throwaway line in humour, is played by Timothy Olyphant, best known for playing the sheriff Seth Bullock on HBO’s Deadwood, a minor role in the legal thriller Damages, and for being the cyber-villain in Die Hard 4.0. Bug-eyed, intense Walton Goggins, outstanding as a corrupt detective in The Shield, is Crowder.

“Tim Olyphant is just the kind of actor I like,” Leonard drawls. “He understates everything.” And that’s part of the key to conveying Leonard’s essence on screen. It’s occurred a few times before. Leonard recalls: “On Get Shorty [the 1995 film with John Travolta as a Miami loan shark who goes to Hollywood and ends up a movie producer], I told the director, Barry Sonnenfeld: 'If there’s a funny line, don’t cut away to a wink or a laugh. That kills it. Never signal that it’s funny.’ Barry understood that.

“I’d thought, 'no’ to Travolta. He’d just done Look Who’s Talking, an awful movie where a baby talks with an adult voice. But when they’d shot Get Shorty and showed it to me, I thought: 'Wow.’ I was very happy with that casting.”

It’s no accident that Get Shorty’s screenwriter Scott Frank also scripted the equally successful Leonard adaptation Out of Sight, with George Clooney as a bank robber who escapes from jail and falls in love with a female US marshal (Jennifer Lopez). Clooney, like Olyphant, can deliver a funny line with deadpan understatement. And Scott Frank clearly “gets” Leonard. So, as a screenwriter, does Quentin Tarantino, who adapted Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch, changing its title to the name of its heroine, airline stewardess Jackie Brown (Jackie Burke in the novel). It’s one of Tarantino’s most accomplished films and the author likes it, too.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 30, 2010 6:20 AM
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