Sunday, September 11, 2016

Classics: A Review of Justified By Lauren Ennis

One of America’s most beloved and enduring genres is also one of the most uniquely American genres; the western. With its emphasis upon individualism, self-sufficiency, lawless societies, and frontier justice, the western encompasses some of the most crucial values and conflicts that still confront American society. While the western is often characterized by its historical setting, the grittiness, isolation, and complex morals of the genre hold just as much, if not even more, resonance in a modern setting. In the series Justified, the adventures of modern day US Marshal Raylan Givens reminds us that there is still plenty of America beyond the west to be won and a place for frontier justice among the frontiers of modern urban America.
Will the real outlaw please stand up?

The Story: The story begins with US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) entering a deadly confrontation with a Miami drug lord that is fittingly portrayed as a modern-day wild west style duel. Despite Raylan’s insistence that the shooting was justified, his superiors are tired of his hair-trigger habits and send him to work in the crime and drug infested Lexington, Kentucky, under whose jurisdiction Raylan’s hometown of Harlan falls. Upon reaching Kentucky, Raylan is introduced to the staff who make up the local marshal’s office including his boss and eventual mentor Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), cynical ex-Iraq War sniper Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts), and the ever professional Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel). For his first assignment, Raylan is immediately forced to return to Harlan, where his personal and professional lives intersect in ways that force him to face the many demons from his troubled past.

Season one largely focuses upon Raylan’s efforts to take down the ruthless Crowder crime family after he is assigned to protect battered wife Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) following her murder of her abusive husband Bowman. Raylan is drawn even further into the twisted world of the Crowder’s when Ava’s brother in law, sociopath Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), begins his own reign of terror and Raylan learns of the debt his mentally unstable father owes to the Crowders. Season two follows Raylan’s attempt to bring the formidable Bennett crime family, led by equal parts charismatic and deadly matriarch Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), to justice, while Boyd struggles to remain on the right side of the law in the wake of his disillusionment with the rest of the Crowder clan. Season three lends a unique approach to the story as both Boyd and Raylan are pitted against vicious Detroit gangster Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), who has come to Kentucky in an effort to expand the territory of the Tonin mafia family. Season four expands the show’s narrative by changing gears once again as Boyd and Ava race against Raylan and the marshals in trying to locate DB Cooper-esque fugitive Drew Thompson, and the millions that Thompson is reported to possess. Season five returns to the show’s familiar format with the Crowe family of Florida becoming enemies of both Boyd and Raylan as they seek to muscle in on the local drug trade. Season six brings the diverse elements of the show full circle as the ongoing rivalry between Raylan and Boyd reaches an explosive climax set against the backdrop of corrupt politics, criminal machinations, and treacherous personal relationships.
Southern belles shoot first and ask questions later

The Characters: One of the series’ greatest draws is its colorful and complex cast of characters. At first glance, Raylan appears to be just another in a long line of television anti-heroes who make their mark by breaking all the rules. Upon closer observation, however, beneath his cocky grin and swagger Raylan is revealed to be a tormented man haunted by a past that he is struggling to separate himself from. Similarly, Boyd is first introduced as just another criminal in Harlan only to be later revealed to be one of the most complicated and formidable foes Raylan faces. In many ways it is difficult for viewers to know the ‘real’ Boyd Crowder as he alternates between moments of genuine compassion and tenderness in his personal relationships and the consistent calculated ruthlessness that he displays in his criminal dealings. Ava displays similar complexity as she evolves from one of Raylan’s many love interests to an independent, but conflicted, heroine as she navigates Harlan’s underworld. Beyond its central trio, the show features a full cast of wily and magnetic characters, all of whom bring their own brand of humor, grit, and southern charm. Standouts among the vast cast of villains include Ma Barker style matriarch, Mags, folksy barbeque king turned corrupt community leader, Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), sadistic gangster Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), charmingly cunning mob widow Katherine Hale (Mary Steenburgen), and quietly menacing drug lord Avery Markham (Sam Elliott). The fun doesn’t stop at the bad guys, however, with laughs and thrills coming courtesy of such characters as teen orphan turned budding queen pin Loretta McCready (Kaitlyn Dever), Raylan’s sassy and fickle ex-wife, Wynona (Natalie Zea), lovably dim-witted prostitute Ellen May (Abby Miller), and Barney Fife-esque bumbling constable Bob Sweeney (Patton Oswalt). With these delightfully wicked and always entertaining characters, as well as many others, at the helm Justified is a by turns comic and bleak journey into the underbelly of modern America that viewers won’t want to return from.

What Kept Me Watching: Perhaps Justified’s greatest asset is its inability to neatly fit into the confines of one genre. While it’s lone lawman in a lawless land harkens back to the greatest of classic westerns, its focus upon modern crime also brings the series into the territory of a police procedural. Just when viewers think that they have the good and bad guys straight, however, the story takes a turn that brings the narrative’s already murky morality into question in the tradition of the best in film noir. Finally the rivalry between conflicted hero Raylan and the ever one step ahead Boyd is directly reminiscent of such legendary cinema rivalries as Batman and the Joker and Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed. Through its ability to seamlessly shift from one genre to another the series is able to provide something for fans of classic and modern drama alike, while adding its own unique edge. Adapted from a short story written by master crime author and screenwriter Elmore Leonard (who also acted as script advisor), Justified features some of the snappiest dialogue and sharpest characterizations on television and features plots that will keep you firmly planted on the edge of your seat. For a journey into the modern American frontier, take a ticket to Harlan, Kentucky and rest assured the trip will be Justified
Welcome to Harlan County

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