While we now live in the era of binge viewing with ‘box sets’ available from Netflix, Prime etc, I have been watching this show steadily in weekly episodes when I go visit my folks. Its mixture of a modern-day Western with extended character arcs and season-long plots has proved very entertaining to them, so I thought I’d share some thought on it, though with one caveat: we have been watching it dubbed into Italian. So it’s kind of like a modern-day ‘spaghetti western’ to us …
The following review is offered as part of the Tuesday’s Overlooked Film/TV meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog.
“Miami is a sunny place for shady people’”
Elmore Leonard, having already published several Westerns, made the transition to full-time writing via his book (and subsequent screenplay) The Moonshine War, set in Prohibition-era Kentucky, before switching to his popular series of contemporary crime stories set in Detroit and Miami. Justified is something of a deliberately anachronistic hybrid, a modern-day western focussing on the exploits of Stetson-baring US Marshall Raylan Givens (lanky Timothy Olyphant), who is transferred from Miami after gunning down a local gangster (a scarily cadaveric Peter Greene) and sent back home to Kentucky.
The opening episode is an exciting and very faithful adaptation of Leonard’s 60-page novella ‘Fire in the Hole’ but the series initially stumbles a little after this. This is partly as a result of the decision to bring forward the episode introducing Raylan’s disreputable father Arlo, and so slightly skewing the chronology of the series, but also due to some repetitiveness creeping in: there are several episodes featuring sieges, jokes are made about how often Raylan’s girlfriend Ava gets kidnapped and one story is based purely around whether our hero will actually manage not to kill anyone this week. Rather more damaging is the constant reuse of a particular narrative strategy in which a character turns round and suddenly shoots a confederate apparently without provocation – the surprise element really does ware off after seven episodes in a row.
Raylan Givens: Dear Lord, before we eat this meal we ask forgiveness for our sins, especially Boyd- who blew up a black church with a rocket launcher, and afterwards he shot his associate Jared Hale in the back of the head out on Tate’s Creek bridge. Let the image of Jared’s brain matter on that windshield not dampen our appetites, but may the knowledge of Boyd’s past sins help guide these men. May this food provide them with all the nourishment they need. But, if it does not, may they find comfort in knowing that the United States Marshal Service is offering fifty-thousand dollars to any individual providing information that will put Boyd back in prison. Cash or check, we can make it out to them. Or to Jesus. Whoever they want. In your name, we pray. Amen.
On the other hand, the source novella is expanded with considerable skill and imagination by show runner Graham Yost and his team, without letting its original vigour flag or betraying the characteristic tang of Leonard’s laconic humour. In addition Walton Goggins as Raylan’s specular nemesis Boyd Crowder, a white supremacist with a penchant for using rocket launchers who has a religious conversion in prison to become a vigilante with messianic delusions, is fabulously entertaining. Mind you, there are a lot of scene-stealers here, including Nick Searcy as Raylan’s long-sufferign boss Art Mullen and Natalie Zea as Raylan’s (sort of) ex-wife Winona.
Winona: It’s kind of hard to stay mad at Raylan.
There is plenty of gunplay too and some outrageous violence, including a wince-inducing bit of DIY dentistry, before the narrative deftly comes full circle to conclude with a good old-fashioned shoot-out. The second season offered a considerable step up, reducing the number of stand-alone elements to tell a more unified tale, and indeed may see the show at its best. But that’s another story …
Disc: The image transfer is spotless while the 5.1 audio is wonderfully rich and spacious. The half hour of extras include an amusing tribute to Elmore Leonard from the show’s large writing team.