"Justified," is not the latest Justin Timberlake CD but rather a new drama on FX based on novels and a short story by Elmore Leonard. For those who don't know, Leonard is an American novelist and screenwriter who has been selling stories about hard-scrabble men and women since the 1950's. A lot of his early work was in Westerns but evolved to become more noirish-type material.
This series is a modern-day western that features Timothy Olyphant in the lead as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. He walks tall, talks soft, and "pulls" as fast as any gunslinger in the Old West.
The premise is simple: Catch some bad guys. The opening gambit is set in Miami where Marshall Givens has given a drug cartel "gunman " 24hrs to get out of "Dodge."
It's not completely believable why he's doing this rather than buidling a case against him and arresting him but let's just go with it and enjoy the steely-eyed stares and tension that the scene builds.
Because of this incident (he kills the guy after the idiot actually draws down on him) he is transferred to the U.S. Marshall's station in Kentucky close to his hometown of Harlan - a place he left many years before and would really like to stay away from. His mom is dead and his father, who he obviouly doesn't want to see, is apparently some sort of hell-raiser from the old days so expect some dramatic issues there when we meet the old man.
The KY section chief (Nick Searcy) explains that here they do everything. The do-it-all nature of the station - investigations, arrests, prisoner transports because they are much smaller than the big-city stations - should provide a rich tapestry of stories that Givens will be involved in going forward.
This is not a cerebral lawman. He probably won't be doing much CSI work or matching wits with Hannibal The Cannibal (although he could - he's pretty smart too.) Even the crooks he's after seem to be out front, in the open, and accessible. You can just drive up and knock on their doors. Or churches as the case may be.
The strength of the Marshall Givens character is that he knows when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. He'll have a drink if you offer - no false "I'm on duty crap." He always goes in quiet but will come out guns blazing - actually, it usually takes only one bullet so blazing might not be the operative word here. He'll talk to a crook first, and shoot second - but make no mistake, he will "pull on you" if you "draw on him." And eventually, the bad guys do make that one fatal error. And his shoots are always...justified (so expect at least one of them not to be.)
Givens, in a long view sort of way, is like Kwai Chang Caine, the seminal character from the old (old!) series "Kung Fu." You watch him because you know at some point no matter how he might prefer otherwise, he's going to have to get to kicking some bad guy ass. The "Kung Fu" stories normally waited until the last part of the hour to set Caine loose; Givens is more likely to have a series of confrontations that lead to the ultimate one.
There is a marked difference however - Caine wasn't the angry lawman that Givens appears to be. His ex-wife calls him "the angriest man I've ever known" and you can sense that perhaps Givens enjoys shooting a bad guy just a bit too much. This should be rich dramatic material to explore going forward.
Actress Joelle Carter does a sexy turn as Ava who has had a crush on long-tall Givens since she was a little girl. There were times where I probably would have dialed back the Southern sex-kitten routine but Ava does provide a nice counterpoint to the bad boys that populate this series. Even still, she's more than capable of racking a load and shooting some bad ass when necessary (she has just killed her abusive husband with a "deer rifle" as the main story in KY opens.)
Walton Goggins plays white supremacist Boyd Crowder, a "friend" of Givens ("we dug coal together when we were 19.") Of course he gets shot by Givens but only enough to put him in the hospital. The Crowder character is more criminal and less supremacist as Givens mentions when they've got "a jar" and are drinking a white lighting toast to their youth like proper good 'ole boys. I'm not sure how complex their relationship is or will become but the men seem to work well with and off of each other.
As mentioned, this is not an overly-complicated piece of work and yet it possesses reasonable depth. Interpreted by writer Graham Yost ("Speed" "Raines") Givens isn't too much or too little; Goggins as the bad guy could easily chew the scenery but his character is played just right. There's a scene in an SUV where even knowing what's coming, Goggins smooth, understated character mesmerizes you into not anticipating it.
I gotta say I really enjoyed this pilot. If Olyphant isn't the second coming of Clint Eastwood - at least in this role - then I don't know who is. Right out of the box, this show shows great potential being a nice mix of drama and ass-kicking. There's a tone here that's hard to resist and impossible to quantify at times. It's as if everyone is on exactly the right, same page at the right, same time, a tribute to the actors, producers, director and writer.
Hard to imagine this not being a must-see for a large segment of the audience because it's got something for everyone including some perfectly-timed dry humor.
"Justified" is not for kids. I doubt the demo skews that young anyway but I wouldn't let my 13-yr-old (if I had one) watch this.
This went on a Season Pass immediately. My hope is that they will continue to churn these out for a goodly amount of time to come. It's on FX, which has another of my favs "Rescue Me," on Tuesday nights.