Tuesday, 20 August 2013

RIP Elmore Leonard

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Today was marked by the sad news surrounding novelist Elmore Leonard, who passed away aged 87 following a stroke.

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Much like when I paid tribute to Gore Vidal last year, I find himself wanting to pay tribute to a man about whose works I am relatively ignorant. Aside from his reputation as a crime writer - Stephen King called him "the great American novelist" - my only experience of Leonard's work is with the films that were based on his novels. He was a very popular author among filmmakers, with 19 of his stories being made into films and a further 7 given a life on television.
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There's any number of interesting adaptations that you could choose from if you wanted to pay tribute to Leonard, or if you wanted to get an idea of what made him so great. There's Out of Sight, Steven Soderbergh's comedy caper starring George Clooney, which has sharper dialogue and more emotional depth than anything in Soderbergh's subsequent Oceans trilogy. There's Touch, helmed by Paul Schrader of Taxi Driver fame and featuring a typically oft-kiltre Christopher Walken. Or there are both versions of 3:10 to Yuma, though James Mangold's remake is widely considered the better.
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But if I was looking to pay tribute to Leonard, I would look no further than the film that he himself cited as his favourite among all the adaptations: Jackie Brown, based on his novel Rum Punch. So often the forgotten film in Quentin Tarantino's filmography, Jackie Brown represents a peak in his career which, on present form at least, he seems unlikely to repeat. Leonard's gritty, realistic dialogue, compelling characters and no-nonsense attitude are a perfect match for Tarantino's shooting style, resulting in a film which is visually and narratively more mature than either Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction.
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The novelist Martin Amis once said that Leonard's writing "made Raymond Chandler look clumsy", and Jackie Brown suggests that he was onto something. Whichever way you choose to pay tribute, it's clear that Leonard was a great talent who will be sorely missed. RIP.

Daniel

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