As Seen In: Get Shorty (1995)
Movies would be blander than rice cakes without stuntmen, but if you ever see their mugs in a picture, somebody screwed up in the editing suite. In Barry Sonnenfeld’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Get Shorty, Gandolfini brings not only a face, but also pathos to one of these anonymous cinematic heroes.
After failing to set up out-of-town loan shark Chili Palmer (John Travolta) by giving him the key to a federally-monitored airport locker filled with dope money, L.A. drug dealer Bo Catlett (Delroy Lindo) orders Bear, a veteran Hollywood stuntman turned henchman, to retrieve the key. Incredulous that Catlett would now expect him to surrender it, Chili laughs in the big man’s face. Bear realizes that the job sets the bar high for idiocy, but as a dedicated blue-collar worker, he nonetheless attempts to intimidate, despite the fact that Chili grabbed him by the balls and threw him down a flight of stairs the last time he tried to menace him.
Easily bested with a quick combination of punches, Bear wheezes for breath on the ground and looks like the biggest, saddest Teddy ever stitched together. He grows even more sympathetic when Chili questions why a successful stuntman would work for a bum like Catlett and Bear lets out a sigh that says more than any dialogue about regrets could. When he reveals that he injured his quadriceps on the stairs, and then grins childishly when talking about the stunt work that he clearly takes great pride in, you want to give him a hug. Like most of Gandolfini’s tough guys, it’s evident that there is a human being underneath all the brawn, and in this case his biggest muscle is his heart. —JM