Dennis Lehane had a column in the Journal last week about writing great dialogue. An excerpt:
"Near the end of the film "The Wild Bunch," the aging outlaw Pike Bishop says only, "Let's go," to impel himself and three other men to head off to certain death (and kill hundreds of other men while they're at it). Legend has it that the director Sam Peckinpah and screenwriter Walon Green were ordered by the studio to include a scene in which Pike explains the details of their final, doomed gambit. Under protest, Green wrote the scene and Peckinpah shot it, and then (so the rumor goes) overexposed the film so that Warner Brothers was forced to go with the original version.
Richard Yates said that great dialogue was as much about what wasn't said as what was. Which is to say, as in most things literary, less = more."
I can still picture Pike Bishop (played by William Holden) saying that line and was going to embed the scene in this post. But if I did all you'd hear is that line followed by a lot of shooting and blood flowing and it wouldn't make sense. The line worked perfectly because of everything that came before in the movie. You knew exactly why he said "Let's go" and what it meant without any further explanation.
Lehane also cites Richard Price's Clockers (a terrific book) for its "pitch-perfect" dialogue. Lehane's not a slouch in the dialogue department either. I prefer his earlier Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro novels like Gone, Baby, Gone (Ben Affleck directed an outstanding version of it), Sacred and A Drink Before the War to some of his later books. Shutter Island was an incredible book but it's a pretty shattering read - I did it once, never again.
A couple of other fine exemplars of dialogue writing are George V Higgins (who merits his own post) and Elmore Leonard (see my review of Raylan). Incidentally, the adaption of Leonard's stories about Raylan Givens, a deputy US Marshall working in Harlan County, Kentucky, is one of the best current series on TV - Justified. I hadn't seen the show but Barb is a fan and persuaded me to watch three seasons worth on a Kindle Fire this summer and now I can't wait for the fourth season beginning next January. The characters, particularly Timothy Olyphant who plays Raylan, look and talk like they stepped out of a Leonard novel. If you do decide to watch it you should start at the beginning as the story builds throughout.