“Road dogs” tells it. This is a buddy story, with a heart, even a morality play, and a strategy session, a chess match.
And on the side, Elmore has a lot of fun introducing interesting characters and filling them up with quirks. And poking us with fun. He even uses George Clooney’s name in this, and, of course, after “Out of Sight,” I’m picturing Clooney with every word Jack Foley utters, so I laugh.
And the dumb-ass skinhead body guard, whom Jack schools on the basketball court in no rules basketball, to the tune of a broken collarbone and broken arm, Mike Nesi, who then threatens Jack, shows up at the funeral home with Tico laid out and demands money from Jack. Then I laugh out loud when Elmore simply says: “Foley and Zorro threw him out the front door of the funeral home.” The confessional passage with Jimmy trying to ensure his eternal happiness in case Cundo kills him tonight is precious—he missed Mass on 1,400 Sundays for a start.
I never did think Elmore was telling us in his crime sagas that bad guys are what we all should be, glorifying them. He was just telling us these are interesting characters—hey, it is what it is—the seven deadly sins often can rule the day when people let them, lawmen with spine can turn the tide, and a smart, funny, pretty, cool broad is as good as it gets.
But this one ... this one—maybe as Elmore ages he sees more, call it wisdom—has the societal defective, smart as he is, bank robbing genius (though he was doing 30 years there for a while if that is so smart), in the person of Jack Foley, play by rules he isn’t even sure about when a road dog of his, more of a buddy than he thought, in the dubious recently released ex-con Cundo Rey, is put in the cross hairs of Dawn Navarro, Cundo’s common law wife and a psychic—the suggestion, which may be the source of some of her excessive pride, is that she really does have some super psychic powers, and isn’t just a con woman to the deluded. She also hates male bonding, road doggery, and how guys like that make her and other women feel small.
Dawn makes us ask: What is evil? If evil is the absense of good, then Dawn is full of it. She, to much more a degree than most of us, has that concupiscence, those seven deadly sin urges, and for some reason, lets them have their way. She drinks, she screws almost the whole cast, she is a thief, a deceiver and cheater, a liar, a manipulator, and, oh yes, a murderer. She’s got her eyes on the prize, millions in Cundo’s California business-real estate empire. And she will do anything ... yep anything, to get there.
Jack seems in on it with Dawn at first then figures out he doesn’t need the dough if it means killing Cundo, or being killed. See, Jack, the chess thinker, is usually a step or two ahead of Dawn and Cundo and Danialle Karmanos, the actress who needs a psychic, and Tico the gangbanger factotum and Jimmy, Cundo’s bookkeeper and gay overseer of Dawn while Cundo was up the river. And we watch it all play out, with Dawn serving some of them macaroni and cheese with a side of three slugs in the chest for one and complicity for the others. Meanwhile the FBI guy Lou Adams watching Jack with help from teenage gangbangers has his own angle—a book to make Jack bigger than bank robbers Willie Sutton and Dillinger. Lou isn’t exactly focused on any of this real crime happening.
Since Jack and Cundo had become road dogs, guys who watch each other’s back, while inside at Glades Correctional in Florida, and Cundo lined up lawyer Megan Norris to get Jack’s 30-year bit busted down to—get this—30 months including time served, Jack didn’t say to himself the Bible says the fifth commandment says thou shalt not kill, and decide to back off taking out his friend. But things bothered him about the plan with Dawn to fleece Cundo, and he just couldn’t get with it. And we knew Jack wasn’t a killer already—127 or so bank robberies without a gun. But Jack had to have loved all this action, or he would have bolted for Costa Rica, as he had planned—besides he needed a stake first after just leaving Glades. He did figure things out better than the rest of them, and at the end he was left thinking of ... what else, a woman. Maybe ex-wife Adele, maybe federal marshal Karen Sisco, maybe actress Danialle Karmanos. Megan Norris. Whoever, whenever. Even Dawn ...?
And if this is a morality play, the moral is not: going to bat for your road dog friend is good, and virtue is its own reward. The moral is you might luck into owning a $4.5 million house on a canal in Venice Beach, Calif. But then, maybe Jack had strategized that all along. Either way, it worked out, right, Jack? This dog had his day.
That Elmore Leonard guy knows how to tell a story, no?
Now for the hard part: Who plays whom in the movie?
Gotta stay with Clooney for Jack; Bob Hoskins would be perfect for Cundo but alas is too old, so I go with Benicio Del Toro, who can play anything, even if he may be a bit taller than Cundo in the book; Dawn Navarro, Charlize Theron; Jimmy the Monk, Sean Penn; Tico, Diego Luna; Lou, James Gandolfini; Danialle, Amanda Peet; Zorro, John Turturro; Mike Nesi, Neal McDonough; Adele, Scarlett Johansson; Megan Norris, Natasha Henstridge; Karen Sisco, Jessica Biel, though Jennifer Lopez wasn’t bad.