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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

New on Video: Sun-Drenched Psychopathy in Miami Blues

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2015 at 2:00 PM

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Although I never got very good grades in their classes, I always became friends with my English teachers, especially one Mr. Roesch in my sophomore and junior years in the late 1980s. I still can't diagram a sentence to save my life, but even then I could compose them well enough, and he respected me on that level. We were also both big fans of The Who, and he lent me his vinyl copy of Keith Moon's solo album Two Sides of the Moon, though he made me promise to keep it hidden from the other students because of the rather rude picture on the back. He trusted me in a way that he didn't trust any of the other students. (I was hella popular, as you can imagine.)

Mr. Roesch also turned me on to the work of the then-recently deceased novelist Charles Willeford, especially his personal favorite, Miami Blues. I loved it, and I also greatly dug the movie version, directed by George Armitage, that came out around the same time, and which Shout! Factory is releasing on Blu-ray on April 28. But it's good stuff even if you don't associate it with your few pleasant memories of high school.


In the film, Junior (Alec Baldwin) is a psychopath who moves to Miami and begins impersonating a cop as a means of continuing his criminal shenanigans. He develops a relationship with a dim-but-sweet prostitute Susie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who dreams of going straight, all while being pursued by Hoke Moseley (Fred Ward), a denture wearer and real cop.

Though Hoke is officially the protagonist, and he would go on to be the hero of three more of Willeford's books, the heart of the film is the relationship between Junior and Susie. It helps that Baldwin and Leigh are both at the top of their game, and judging from their reflections on the film in the bonus features, they both look back on it fondly. It should be noted that Baldwin, shot in his New York home, appears to have just rolled out of bed, and gives approximately zero fucks about his appearance. (He does acknowledge how much prettier he was back in the day.)

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Leigh, meanwhile, is looking wonderful as always, and is sitting in front of her movie shelf. Sadly, she does not take on a tour of her collection.

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Baldwin speaks glowingly of Leigh as an actress, and says that at the time the film was made, she was respected on a level similar to that of Julianne Moore now. Which raises a question that's bothered me for years: Why the hell isn't Jennifer Jason Leigh a bigger star, or at least a more praised one? She's never stopped working, and she should be far more in-demand than she is. Seriously, Hollywood, get it together. The Moore comparison especially stings, considering that Leigh is two years younger.

Baldwin also makes an interesting observation about the placement of Miami Blues in the Jonathan Demme firmament. Demme produced it, and it had essentially the same production team as his films from around that same period — including the overpraised and transphobic Silence of the Lambs — and Baldwin ruminates on how Junior is one of the many "deviant heterosexual men" in Demme's films, where the women are the often the strongest characters.

It's especially interesting to revisit Miami Blues now that Justified, based on the work of Elmore Leonard, has completed its six-season run. Leonard wrote an introduction for the 2004 reprint Willeford's novel, and while Hoke Moseley and Leonard's Raylan Givens are very different kinds of characters, they do both exist in a world of excellent, Miami-centered crime fiction. Both Leonard and Willeford have passed away, and I neither read nor write fan fiction, but if someone were to bring Hoke and Raylan together, I'd be all over it.
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Sherilyn Connelly

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