Elmore Leonard is one of those authors that you can be familiar with having not read a single page of his writing. This is thanks to the numerous cinematic adaptations of his work – whether its Jackie Brown, Get Shorty, Out of Sight or, now, Life of Crime. Daniel Schechter’s film has plenty of familiar Leonard elements – guns, extortion, cold-pressed dialogue and constantly nonchalant characters (one of whom, Ordell – played here by Mos Def, credited as Yasiin Bey – was Samuel L Jackson’s slimy outlaw in Jackie Brown).
Despite surface similarities, Life of Crime distinguishes itself from these well-worn Leonard tropes. Rather than the comedy-of-errors-cum-crime-thriller we’ve come to expect, the framework is twisted towards an unconventional romance. Despite, say, Pam Grier’s presence, earlier Leonard adaptations tend towards a particular brand of masculine competitiveness; here, the ladies (Jennifer Aniston’s trophy wife/Isla Fisher’s conniving concubine) rule the roost.
This low-key approach may not be for everyone, which might explain why, despite the impressive cast (also featuring Tim Robbins and John Hawkes), Madman neglected to give this film a Brisbane theatrical release. Those looking for a sharp, conventional genre thriller will be disappointed, but I’m more than happy with the chilled character study we received.