Raylan Givens once gave a man a day to leave town; then shot him on site when he didn't obey. Raylan Givens shot his boyhood friend. Raylan Givens was once knocked out and locked up in a freezer, but more offended the crook stole his hat. Raylan Givens isn't afraid to publicly threaten Harlan County's local meth kingpin. Raylan Givens is the angriest man alive. Raylan Givens is a man born in the century. Timothy Olyphant brings life to Elmore Leonard's creation of Deputy US Marshall, Raylan Givens, a modern day cowboy in a world civilized in appearance only. "Justified" the newest action/drama series from FX strives to do two things what few have done before: adapt an Elmore Leonard story successfully and then continue to explore those characters with original stories. Running 13, one-hour long episodes, "Justified" starts at a sprint, adapting Leonard's original short story "Fire in the Hole" as the pilot episode. An extremely faithful adaptation, with a few notable changes, "Fire in the Hole" sets a very high bar for this freshman series to live up to, and while "Justified" does exactly tell viewers where its headed, by the time the season finale, the aptly titled "Bulletville" rolls around, the only sure bet I'd make is Raylan's coming back for a second season.
"Justified" is the brainchild of Graham Yost, a man whose career highlights include work on "From the Earth to the Moon," "Band of Brothers," and "The Pacific." For Leonard fans, Yost is saint, as he strives to keep that unique Leonard style going through the remaining 12 episodes, succeeding where others have failed. I'll fully admit, I wasn't sure where "Justified" was headed in its first few episodes, and while the series does tease a larger story arc, many of the episodes in the first half of the season are solid standalone efforts. The focus is on our hero, Raylan, who would likely strike viewers as more of an antihero, if it weren't for his old fashioned manners. Olyphant is a brilliant casting choice, brining the Old West style he perfected on "Deadwood," but finally getting to bring his natural talent for sly humor to the table. Having been an Olyphant fan for years, even arguing his villain in "Live Free or Die Hard" was a solid character (a nerd with a bruised ego is infinitely more unpredictable and dangerous than any thief), "Justified" is finally something I can show people how talented and, frankly underrated Olyphant is.
Raylan is a complex man: a modern day gunslinger, whose frustration with protocols and policies are easily understandable. He's a man thrown back into his hometown to deal with white supremacists, thieves, unhinged ex-convicts, and an absentee father, Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) whose run afoul of the recently released Harlan meth kingpin, Bo Crowder (M.C. Gainey). If that weren't enough, Bo's son, Boyd (Walton Goggins) is the childhood friend Raylan shoots in the pilot, and Boyd's husband shooting sister-in-law, Ava (Joelle Carter), is quick to strike up an unethical romance with Raylan. On paper it sounds very soap opera-ish, but the slower pace "Justified" takes to take some of these arcs to conclusion as well as build some for further expansion in later seasons, ends up being a smart move in hindsight. The biggest treat for viewers is the way Walton Goggins upstages the entire cast in the acting department, Olyphant included. Initially introduced as a one-note bigot, Yost and company send Boyd down the path of the Good Book and evolving him into a complex character that no one, viewer or character alike, can read. His "I have been saved" routine is easy to dismiss as a not-so-clever ruse, but through solid writing and Goggins' amazing talents, Boyd becomes the series' most grey character; at war with himself, his former ways, and at times Raylan, a man who claims he holds no ill will for.
"Justified" isn't without its missteps. At least three episodes are entertaining, but lacking in the grand scheme of the things, with the second episode "Riverbrook" being the worst offender. A pure standalone tale, it feels like it was made when the creators weren't entirely sure they had the larger supporting cast locked down. It gives a little insight into Raylan as a character, but is very much a by-the-books affair, sending Raylan after an escaped connected with a string of serial burglaries. Likewise "The Collection" falls into the same category, but the powerful final scene alone leaves the episode with a bit of a shine. Last but not least, "The Hammer" is just plain weak and disengaging, despite a fun guest spot from Stephen Root . What all three episode do so well, is the same thing many of the standalone episodes do: allow Raylan to interact with those close in his life, most importantly, boss and obvious father figure, Art Mullen (Nick Searcy). Mullen is a man caught in the middle of toeing the line between the law and his close friend Raylan, who despite unconventional methods, gets things done and will stop at nothing to uphold the law. Like any stubborn child, Raylan often ends up following Mullen's advice, episodes later, but not after getting into a bit of trouble first. The perfect encapsulation of Raylan as a character comes when challenged to a duel by a third-rate, wannabe thug. Raylan verbally explains everything that could go wrong a in a gunfight, revealing just how deadly he is with a gun; however, not content to stop there and let the freshly wary crook back out, Raylan demonstrates his draw, re-holstering his gun with a chuckle. There is an arrogant, cocky child trapped in Raylan that gets him into many of the series' situations, but we the viewer love him for it all the same.
"Justified" has a bright future on FX, filling the void left by "The Shield." If this season is an indication of how Yost plans to run the show from a big picture point of view, then Season Two is going to be mind-blowing. Nothing is rushed and the focus of this series is wisely on characters, an approach that the creators of "LOST" and "Deadwood" employed. The result is a rich, collection of real people, whose problems are all very similar and ultimately intertwined, with Raylan Givens, one angry, charming, no nonsense US Marshall at the center of it all, struggling to ensure everyone gets what's coming to them.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer features strong color reproduction (compare the bright primary colors of the pilot's opening scene in Florida to the rural tones of Harlan) and great contrast levels. Detail is striking and the often-troublesome edge enhancement is not an issue, nor is digital noise. Not quite reference quality (the image can be softer than desired at times) but very close.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is an impressive offering, balancing the sometimes low-key, low volume dialogue scenes with bouts of big, noisy action. There are some solid uses of the surrounds, particularly in busy offices and rowdy bars. A Portuguese 5.1 track and Spanish Dolby Surround track is included as well as English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are included as well.
Four commentaries turn up on the first season set. First up are Graham Yost, Nick Searcy, Gregg Sutter (an Elmore Leonard expert), and Michael Dinner on the pilot "Fire in the Hole." Graham Yost and respective writers, Ben Cavell and Fred Golan turn up on the episodes "Blowback" and "Bulletville," while Timothy Olyphant, Natalie Zea, and writer Dave Andron chat about "Hatless." All in all, solid commentaries that gives a range of viewpoints regarding the series.
"What Would Elmore Do" is a roughly 20-minute featurette on the man responsible for creating Raylan, Elmore Leonard. It's praise heavy and justifiably (minor pun intended) so for Leonard's work. Leonard himself is interviewed and discusses the character and some of his writing. "The Story of Justified" and "Justified: Meet the Characters" run around five-minutes a piece and are your standard promotional style segments. "Shooting for Kentucky" runs a hair over 15-minutes and is both promotional and informative, going into some behind-the-scenes aspects. "The Marshals" gives a retired Marshall a chance to talk about the authenticity of the series. A very brief "look" at season two is included and last but not least, there is music video for the show's theme song; avoid it at all costs, please.
"Justified" is a sharply written, near-expertly acted, highly engaging series. While like any freshman season it has a few stumbles, it never fails to entertain, even if at a slightly reduced level. Graham Yost has set up a wonderful little world of colorful characters and makes the thought of a more polished second season a very welcome notion. The DVD release is pleasing on the technical side of things, making this must-have release. Highly Recommended.