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Get Shorty

By Barry Sonnenfeld’s

The best training you can have for becoming a film producer is to come from a gangster background. That’s the central proposition in Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty, based on Elmore Leonard’s best-selling novel. This metaphor is developed in a story which has loan shark Chilli Palmer (John Travolta) arrive in Hollywood to collect a gambling debt from Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman), a Z-movie director whose sensibility has fossilised in the ‘70s. But Chilli is a film fan, and instead of roughing up Zimm, he pitches him an idea for a movie. The problem is, the movie he outlines is the movie we’re watching, so he doesn’t know how it ends.




The plot is more convoluted than a Jesuit’s moral conscience, but even if you can’t follow it you’ll still enjoy the show, because of the humour and one-liners present in every scene. Travolta, the man with a better line in resurrections than Jesus Christ, is outstanding in his portrayal of the cool, slick Chilli, and his Golden Globe award for Best Actor is thoroughly deserved. There’s a marvellous scene where Travolta tries to teach Danny De Vito , who plays a vulgarian actor (see how the thin line between illusion and reality begins to blur!), how to act like a gangster. An actor playing a gangster playing a producer shows an actor playing an actor how to play a gangster. Incidentally, DeVito also produced this film: how’s that for even more doublespin.
Rene Russo is great as the female lead, an actress naturally, and Sonnenfeld perfectly captures Leonard’s eccentric sense of humour. Get Shorty is the best movie about movies since Altman’s The Player, which was in turn the best movie about movies since Truffaut’s La Nuit American (Day For Night). A must see, as they say in the business.

First published in The Big Issues









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