Acclaimed writer Elmore Leonard has had a fairly large number of his works adapted into films and TV shows; from Hombre, Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and Killshot, through to 3:10 to Yuma, and Karen Sisco; but the latest adaptation of his work brings one of his more popular characters; Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens; to the small screen, in FX’s newest police drama, Justified.
Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood, Die Hard 4.0) plays Marshall Givens in the series that was based mainly on Elmore’s short story ‘Fire in the Hole’, and sees him portraying a Marshall who’s not only (as the series boxset claims) “the coolest cops on TV”, but one that is quick to dispense his own form of justice to anyone he deems worthy; a habit which leads to him being reminded by a superior (only minutes into the pilot episode) that Marshall’s are not longer allowed to shoot people on sight.
Raylan’s journey begins after an ‘indiscretion’ leads to him being transferred back to his hometown in Kentucky, and inevitably leads to him crossing paths with a fairly large number of colourful characters with whom he was previously associated, including an ex-wife named Winona (Natalie Zea, Dirty Sexy Money), a potential girlfriend named Ava (Joelle Carter, High Fidelity); who happens to have just murdered her husband; an old friend named Boyd (Walton Goggins, The Shield); who’s turned into a bible-quoting white-supremacist murderer; and his estranged father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry, Training Day); who lives a less than lawful life.
It’s through the many relationships that Raylan holds with the people of Kentucky that the series major, and most affecting, plot points arise; with the entire pilot of the pilot episode (which in itself feels like a short film, and is perfectly crafted as such) revolving around his transition back to the small town, and having to try and pin several crimes on his former friend; yet there’s always plenty more going on, with Raylan and the other Marshall’s having to track down fugitives, guard a judge, solve murders, and rescue kidnap victims, on top of everything else.
Yet while with all the interconnected relationships, single episode arcs, and ever expanding backstory, Justified never seems to overstretch itself, and always remains not only easy to follow, but extremely entertaining to watch; something it achieves by continually introducing colourful, yet ultimately believable, and memorable, characters; as no matter how long a character appears in the show (be it seven episodes, or two short scenes) they always seem fully fleshed out, well cast, and perfectly fitting within the tone of the show.
The prime example of Justified’s characterization obviously comes from Raylan Givens, and Timothy Olyphant’s portrayal of him (which is consistently perfect, intense, and real), because not only is his part so well written; with his mannerisms, way of life, and entire attitude, making him a Marshall that it’s impossible not to like; but even Elmore Leonard has stated that the way Tim carries himself, and delivers his lines, is exactly how he envisioned/heard Raylan when he first wrote him.
Yet it’s not just Timothy Olyphant who does a good job of bringing his character to life (although his example is clearly excellent and unmatched), as the rest of the cast are also well suited to their roles, and come across as well rounded, and completely believable; from Walton Goggins somewhat infuriating portrayal of the potentially converted Boyd, to Joelle Carter’s captivating and realistic performance of a country girl who got mixed in with the wrong crowd, and everyone of Raylan’s co-workers.
But what makes Justified different from other TV cop shows, and separates Raylan from the multitude of other leading men, is not only the superb dialogue, gunfights, and country setting, but lies in Raylan’s attitude; as not only is he the epitome of an old-west Marshall (making this performance that much more similar to Olyphant’s appearance as Seth Bullock in Deadwood), but retains all the morals, manners, and sense of nobility, that came with that type of western character; making him an old style cop who’s still flawed (he’s been divorced, he gets into fights, and he makes a few unwise decisions), yet infinitely likeable, and not an anti-hero in any way, shape, or form.
There’s no denying that Justified is simply must-see-TV, as it’s got something for everyone; including gunfights, drama, explosions, romance, murders, gangs, and a leading man that’s honest, funny, real, and nothing if not memorable; and as the show maintains such a high standard throughout the series that means each individual episode could work as a single standing short film (each coming peppered with interesting characters, a great plot, plenty of action, and some superb dialogue), there’s no reason not to watch Justified; especially seen as how the series climax is so well done, it’ll leave any viewer desperate to see the second series.
Just like the series itself, Justified comes to DVD with a surprisingly excellent transfer, which features an impressive level of detail, solid reproduction of the show’s generally muted and natural colour palette, and decent black levels, all of which constantly remind the viewer that Justified airs on a HD channel in the States, and bodes exceptionally well for the release of the U.S. Blu-ray; because if the DVD looks this good, the Blu-ray is bound to look spectacular.
As with most series’ there are some slight inconsistencies between episodes, and the odd halo or spot of pixelation visible under the right circumstances, but none of the transfer’s flaws are really noticeable, or likely to hinder viewers enjoyment of the excellent series, in any way.
Unlike the superb video quality, the audio track for the Justified DVD is adequate and appropriate, but not astounding; as whilst there is the odd bit of ambient noise can be heard emanating from the rear channels, and there’s enough activity all round during the season’s numerous gunfights, the rear channels generally stay too quiet to make it a wholly realistic, and fully immersive soundtrack.
Justified’s audio is immersive enough for a show of it’s kind, contains some appropriate bass when needed, and dialogue that’s pitch-perfect, well anchored in the front of the soundfield, and always easily intelligible, but despite having sound prioritization, and no real issues, the audio remains slightly less than mind-blowing; it’s an undeniably good track, but not one to write home about.
All of Justified’s special features reside on the first two discs from the set (leaving the final disc lacking in all but an impressive season finale), and begin with a feature that asks the question ‘What Would Elmore Do?”; with the show’s writers, and Elmore Leonard explaining how that became the whole mantra for the writers (if they ever got stuck, they would just try to ask themselves what Elmore would have written in said situation), discussing why they chose to develop Fire in the Hole, and how they had to differ from Elmore’s work to make the show more accessible; which makes for an interesting discussion, and is worth a watch for hardcore fans, but likely to be skipped by most.
Also included as part of the bonus material is a featurette entitled ‘Meet the Characters’; where the cast and crew discuss the merits, motivations, and general behavioral pattern of their characters; and another called the ‘Story of Justified’; which features limited behind the scenes footage, more interviews with the cast and crew, and discussions about creating the show; and while both may contain nuggets of interesting information, they reuse some of the same footage, are way too promotional, can be easily skipped by anyone who has already watched the show, and shouldn’t be watched by people who haven’t (as they also contain spoilers relating to the season finale); making for a couple of short, mostly redundant, features that are acceptable, but fall short of what the series deserves.
The Bottom Line:
So while Justified may just appear like any other cop show at first glance, it becomes abundantly clear from the first episode that it has something different; a compelling lead the likes of which hasn’t been seen for many years, truly brilliant writing that never fails to impress, and a captivating arc which makes every minute of Justified a worthy watch.
For a DVD the picture quality is superb (boding well for the upcoming U.S. Blu-ray release), the sound may not be awe-inspiring, but remains clear, stable, and strong, and while the special features are nothing to write home about, the Justified DVD is a worthy purchase for one reason; it contains what is, without a doubt, the best cop show on TV.
The cast are excellent, the writing and direction are spot-on, and with the dialogue, style, and sudden eruption of violence which only a channel like FX would allow, Justified is a massive hit, a successful blending of the western and the modern police-drama, which brings a no-holes-barred Seth Bullock straight into the 21st century, and is a more than justifiable purchase on DVD.