movie film review | chris tookey

Justified (TV)

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  Justified (TV) Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
8.50 /10
Timothy Olyphant , Walton Goggins , Joelle Carter
Full Cast >

Directed by: Michael Dinner, Adam Arkin, Peter Werner, John Dahl, Michael W. Watkins, Don Kurt, Tny Goldwyn, Rod Holcomb, Frederick King Keller, Billy Gierhart, Peter Weller, Jon Avnet, Bill Johnson, Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Dean Parisot, Michael Pressman, Michael Katleman, John David Coles, Lesli Linka Glatter
Written by: Elmore Leonard, Graham Yost, Ingrid Escajeda, Chris Provenzano, Dave Andron, Wendy Calhoun, Nichelle D. Tramble, Taylor Elmore, Benjamin Cavell, VJ Boyd, Leonard Chang, Ryan Farley, Jon Worley, Fred Golan, Gary Lennon, Jenny DeArnitt, Jennifer Kennedy, Keith Schreier, Benjamin Daniel Lobato, Michael Dinner . Based on the short story Fire in The Hole by Elmore Leonard Created by Graham Yost

Released: 2010
Origin: US
Length: 0

Much against his wishes, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant, pictured left) is transferred from Miami, Florida, to his home turf - Harlan County in Kentucky - after he guns down a crime boss in a swanky Miami hotel. The bad guy had been given 24 hours to leave town but just wouldn’t go. What else was Raylan to do, when a gun was pulled on him? Surely homicide was, in this case, justified? The trouble is, that frontier kind of thinking just ain’t appreciated, no more.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Justified, which ran to six series, is a unique show in the history of television - and, indeed, of the western. It is, in some respects, a classic horse opera: a tale of a cool, wisecracking, gunslinging lawman coming to clean up a crime-ridden town - or in this case, an entire county. But it’s set in the modern day. It’s funny and scary at the same time. It’s based on a short story by Elmore Leonard and in his idiosyncratic style, with witty dialogue and plenty of narrative surprises. And it’s magnificently acted - notably by Timothy Olyphant as the lawman Raylan Givens, and Walton Goggins (pictured right) as the woman-abusing, born-again Christian, white supremacist Boyd Crowder, Raylan’s onetime friend down the coal mines, and now his most dangerous adversary. The series is also worth watching for the parade of America’s finest character actors, all clearly delighted to be given dialogue as sparkling as they have ever encountered. Series 2, with an outstanding contribution from Margo Martindale as the terrifying matriarch Mags Bennett, is my favourite; but all are very good.

Justified may strike a few viewers as excessively violent, but the bloodshed seems, well, justified when a lawman has to deal with as many specimens of low-life scum as he does here. Part of the fun lies in Olyphant’s world-weariness as yet another neo-nazi with the intelligence of pond life challenges him to a confrontation. There’s never been a series - or a western - with so little confidence in the brainpower of its villains; yet, somehow, that adds to the sense of peril. A stray bullet can kill anyone, and some of these guys are stupid enough - and mad enough - to behave with stunning irrationality at any moment.

Olyphant on the big screen tends to play super-confident, smartass villains; but with his devilish good looks and easy drawl, he makes an exceptionally cool protagonist, like Clint Eastwood with a sense of humour. You can see why even good guys hate him, but you definitely feel you’d like him by your side if you strolled into a rough bar. He’s the kind of guy who can make bad hombres back away, with just a sleepy half-smile and a raised eyebrow. His bemusement at the stupidity of the world, masking a not always suppressed anger at his own lowly place in it, makes this an iconic performance.

The morality of the series goes beyond the usual western stereotypes. Boyd Crowder (intended to be a villain who disappeared after episode 1) is an astonishingly complicated character with his crazed Christian beliefs and distinctly unchristian behaviour. He turns from the villain of the series into an unlikely alternative antihero. Similarly, the female characters go well beyond the usual cliches of home-loving gals and femme fatales. Joelle Carter’s transition from loose cannon to bad girl to romantic interest is weirdly sexy and really quite innovative.

Elmore Leonard didn’t write all the episodes, but the writers had bracelets made that said “WWED - what would Elmore do?” The whole series is as well written as any western I have seen on TV - or in the cinema, come to that. It even inspired Leonard to write another book about Givens, based on episodes from the series.

Justified was a good opportunity for some talented but underrated film directors to show how good they still are. The general standard was extremely high, and director John Dahl demonstrated the kind of no-frills expertise that made his best feature films - The Last Seduction, Red Rock West and Joy Ride - so hugely enjoyable. Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-stop Cafe) did likewise. Former actor Adam Arkin, whose TV credits have included Chicago Hope and Fargo, also turned in exceptional work, over a number of episodes.

The final episode was notable for the way it avoided the obvious shoot-out scenario that any western movie would have gone for, and came up with a finale that was funny, sad and, in a weird sort of way, romantic.

Justified won two Emmies - one for Jeremy Davies (outstanding guest actor in a drama series), another for Margo Martindale (outstanding supporting actress in a drama series). It won an American Film Institute Award as “TV Program of the Year”. To my mind, it was still greatly undervalued. The way it was barely seen in the UK was a scandal. Channel 5 dropped the series after four seasons - one of the most boneheaded decisions in the history of broadcasting. It probably wasn’t attracting audiences, but then hardly anyone knew it was on.

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