Back in 1977, Saturday Night Fever became a box-office sensation, garnering $237 million worldwide and putting its star, John Travolta, on the map. This role led to an Oscar nomination for Travolta, who then would continue showing off his dancing skills and musical talent in 1978’s Grease. With back-to-back hits, Travolta became one of the most talked about actors of that decade, and with those two films, he was, in addition, also recognized for his talented dancing skills and singing voice. After a decline in the '80s, Travolta found himself with another Oscar nomination for 1994’s Pulp Fiction, in which he played a gangster. The next year, 1995, Travolta found himself involved with another mob-related project called Get Shorty, which was also received with critical acclaim and garnered his only Golden Globe win for acting thus far. Again, he played a gangster, but one who wanted to get involved in the movie business. And again, with back-to-back hits, Travolta, this time, showed that he has a knack for playing a bad guy, particularly one who works for a crime organization. Of course, his latter projects in which he played a mobster never hit the same level as the two he had in the '90s. There was Gotti earlier this year, and that was a beautiful train wreck.
Whereas Saturday Night Fever and Grease might be brought up equally in conversations, it has never quite felt the same way for both Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty. It always feels like Quentin Tarantino’s film gets talked about more often and is also quoted more often than Barry Sonnenfeld’s. Granted, Tarantino does have the better film, and, for that time, his style was revolutionary and changed the way film is today. Sonnefeld’s, on the other hand, didn’t quite break new ground for the mob genre, but it’s also a zippy, intelligently written mobster flick with great performances from all involved and some wickedly good dialogue.
Based on the Elmore Leonard novel of the same name, Travolta is in full command as Chili Palmer, a loan shark from Miami. One day, he confronts a dim-witted mobster named Ray “Bones” Barboni (Dennis Farina) after he “borrows” Chili’s leather jacket because Barboni forgot his. Chili doesn’t like this. He breaks Barboni’s nose and leaves a nice gash in his head from a bullet. But some incidents lead Barboni to becoming Chili’s new boss. Chili’s first assignment under Barboni is to collect a debt owed by filmmaker Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman). But once Chili arrives in Hollywood, he finds himself wanting to get into the movie business. He also discovers that both industries have a lot of similarities.
Get Shorty is equally balanced in its amount of both humor and violence, never pushing the envelope when it comes to the level of gun play at hand nor does it try to be too jokey and silly. Sonnefeld and screenwriter Scott Frank handle the film with such a terrific blend that allows the actors to be serious when needed and also be hilarious when needed. Each of the actors involved, and it’s a rather big list, gets an equal amount of screen time to allow their characters to be developed and effective. It’s amazing that a film like Get Shorty was able to squeeze in so many people and make everything work so well.
The whole supporting cast is lined up with a wide array of talent. Each one is able to carry his or her own weight and excel in the role given to him or her. Some of the great supporting characters include a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini taking on the role of a stunt man. He is tough when his boss tells him to be, but also has a strong and affectionate heart for his daughter. There’s also Farina, who I previously mentioned. He is incredible as Barboni. The opening interaction between him and Chili is hysterically funny.
Shout! Factory has given the extremely underrated Get Shorty a nice 4K upgrade, with some excellent image and sound quality. It also comes jam packed with a bunch of special features, although they are all from previous releases. The quality of those, although some are somewhat grainy, is fine enough to watch.
The special features include an audio commentary with Sonnenfeld to accompany the film. “Look at Me” has interviews with Travolta and others involved about how they got on board with Get Shorty, as well as a discussion of Leonard’s work. “Wise Guys and Dolls” looks at the characters of the story and the actors who portrayed them. The “party reel” is the bloopers reel feature, but it shows the moments before the scene begins or right as it finishes. “Going Again” has Devito discussing how he assisted Sonnenfeld in a lot of scenes, and when an error was made, he would just say “going again,” rather than “cut” and redo the whole scene. There is one deleted scene that gets a full discussion, mostly because it was such a great scene but it didn’t fit the movie. It takes place in a graveyard and has Chili watching a film being made in the production phase, with a cameo by Ben Stiller. There are some vignettes that have Sonnenfeld and Devito explaining different phases of making Get Shorty. Lastly, there’s the episode of Bravo’s Page-To-Screen in which the film is discussed by host Peter Gallagher.
Filled with a killer soundtrack, strong performances, and terrific dialogue, Get Shorty is one of the great '90s mobster comedies that still holds up to this day. Travolta and the rest of the cast are a treat to watch, and Sonnenfeld’s direction is exceptional. This new release from Shout! Factory, under its Shout Select lineup, is a must own for fans of the film. Just, please, avoid the sequel, Be Cool, at all costs.