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25 Years Later: Get Shorty

20 October 20 words: George White

John Travolta picked up a Golden Globe for his performance in this film, but was it deserved? Screen Co-Editor George White finds out... 

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring: Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito
Running time: 105 minutes

For a film that sounds like a working title for one of Justin Bieber’s early releases, Get Shorty is a surprisingly sophisticated, self-aware take on the mob subgenre, with its well-written and entertaining script brilliantly executed by its cast. There may be slow moments, and there are elements that feel slightly self-indulgent at times, but 25 years on this movie still manages to provide a fresh take on an overly saturated section of cinema. 

Get Shorty follows Chili Palmer (John Travolta), a mid-level mafioso who travels to Hollywood to collect a debt - and finds the movie industry too enticing to leave behind. Yet when his past follows him out west, in the form of Dennis Farina’s Ray 'Bones' Barboni, Palmer’s dreams of producing his own movie seem short lived. 

It all sounds very dramatic, but this is more than just your everyday gangster flick. Rather subdued and understated in the majority of its approach, Get Shorty spends plenty of time simply hanging out with its characters, director Barry Sonnenfeld giving every conversation and interaction space to breathe. 

While this can lead to boring moments in some films (ahem, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), the incredible work of the cast makes sure this isn’t the case here. John Travolta is in his prime as Palmer, putting in a charming and enjoyable performance as the smooth-talking leading man. It’s no wonder he won a Golden Globe for the role back in 1996.

Travolta puts in one of the most effective performances of his lengthy career

Travolta is complemented by some entertaining supporting displays, particularly from Danny Devito and Gene Hackman. While the former admittedly feels underused, he clearly has a blast playing the arrogant A-list actor, poking fun at the more irritating elements of Hollywood culture and its influence on the biggest stars. Hackman, however, is a key man throughout, his take on the weasley, pathetic Harry Zimm leading to a hilariously disjointed dynamic with the no-nonsense Chili. 

These characters are thrust into a story that, while undoubtedly slow, packs enough interesting twists to keep the audience engaged throughout. A sharp, self-aware script by Elmore Leonard and Scott Frank gives its talented performers more than enough to work with, and in Dennis Farina’s Barboni the film boasts an unpredictable antagonist who keeps things interesting when they could go stale. 

For all the enjoyability that the film brings, though, it does have its issues. Get Shorty feels, at times, a little too self-indulgent, its desperation to point out the flaws of the movie-making machine making certain lines a little too on-the-nose. And, for the less patient among us, a movie that takes nearly an hour to properly get going may feel frustrating. 

Overall, though, this film is an intelligent take on a crowded subgenre. Travolta puts in one of the most effective performances of his lengthy career, and a quality supporting cast gets the chance to flex their extensive comedic muscles. Don’t be put off by the name - Get Shorty is well worth a watch.

Did you know? John Travolta initially declined an offer to be in this movie, but was convinced by Quentin Tarantino to do it.

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