Skip to main content

I'm going to need Google Translate on my phone if I'm going to keep talking to you.


Justified
Season Four

(SPOILERS) I seem to have an unfortunate knack lately for watching adaptations of great writers’ work as their deaths are announced. First there was Richard Matheson (The Legend of Hell House) and now the latest season of Justified as Elmore Leonard passes on. Leonard was a big fan of the series; of what showrunner Graham Yost had done to expand his short story Fire in the Hole and of Timothy Olyphant’s performance as US Marshal Waylan Givens.  Rightly so, as the only Leonard I can think of that approaches this series in terms of quality is Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight.


Leonard observed of the pilot that Waylan seemed very happy shooting people, and Season Four continues to explore the parallels and differences between Waylan and his criminal father  - and whether there are lines he will not cross. Hunter Mosley (Brent Sexton), who is responsible for the premature demise of Arlo and was sent down during Season One, expresses the opinion that Waylan is much more like his daddy than he cares to admit. There’s a running theme, as is common with idiosyncratic lawmen, what Waylan would be a criminal if it wasn’t for his badge.


But Olyphant doesn’t portray him as a fascistic or aggressive type; his views, when he expresses them, tend to the liberal. It’s just that he does seem to like shooting people. It’s one of the great pleasures of the series that Waylan will, at least every other episode, enter a situation where someone who means him harm ends up dead. His laconic, laidback manner usually offers the antagonist a way out, but inevitably he is called on to go the Quick Draw McGraw route. On occasion we need to see him seriously exposed, lest we start to think he is more than a mere mortal, but Yost and his writers continually broach the territory of how far he will take matters beyond his remit. Would it have been too much if he’d shot Nicky Augustine (Mike O’Malley) in cold blood? After all, if there was one area we’d expect Waylan to go further than perhaps he should, it’s in protecting Winona and his unborn child. As it turns out he gets others to do his dirty work, and as he sees it there’s no need for guilt on his part (I wonder how long Sammy (Max Perlich) will retain the crown of head of the Detroit mafia; maybe Yost and co are pulling for a return visit from Adam Arkin as Theo Tonin in Season Five, sorting out whatever mess Sammy has made by then and no doubt pulling double duties as a director on the show).


Raymond J. Barry’s Arlo had a good run on Justified, so contemptuous of his son’s lawful ways that he may have even attempted to kill him at the end of the previous season (killing a cop instead). Barry played Senator Richard Matheson (yes) in The X-Files, of course. Appropriately, this season revolves around a secret Arlo is at the heart of; the only issue is perhaps how well this retconing works (more of that in a bit). True to form, the two Givens spurn sentimentality during their last encounter (4.8 Outlaw). Waylan asks him to reveal the identity of Drew Thompson as a parting gesture and Arlo tells him where to go. After he dies, Waylan is back at work as if nothing has happened. It’s only when Art (Nick Searcy) tells him to go home that Waylan reveals a chink in his armour, finding something in his eye as he waits for the lift. The season leaves him pondering his mortality as he surveys the graves of his father and mother.


Winona-haters were no doubt pleased that Natalie Zea’s character only appeared on the periphery of this run. I don’t know what their problem is, really. Although, didn’t Sarah Wayne Callies also attract opprobrium in Prison Break? Is it down to fan girls who don’t want their lovely Waylan sullied? I’ve no idea. They’ll be pleased to hear that plan is for her to feature more significantly in the fifth year.


Her main showing is in the finale (4.13 Ghosts) where she is taken hostage by some of Augustine’s men. Haven’t we seen this before? It feels like it, and it could be that it’s a lazy device to put the girlfriend in peril.  She gets a good line about them making a big mistake as Waylan will kill them when he finds out, but it’s a forced, movie cliché moment to have both her and Givens shoot the main henchman simultaneously. That said, I like how this is a series that will set up a hostage situation and resolve it all in the first 10 minutes of an episode (then, any other series would require Waylan to go along with their plan to extract Drew Thompson rather than start shooting).


I began to wonder how well this season was going to come together after a relatively unfocused first third. The arc of the quest for the identity of Drew Thompson felt like they were clutching at straws for a hook, but it turned out to be sufficiently different from just another big drug dealer pulling into town (this one did, 30 years earlier). Some of the plot threads felt like filler, in particular the snake handling church that is set up as a threat to Boyd (4.1 Hole in the Wall) and then fizzles (mostly) out (1.3 Truth and Consequences). Billy, the charismatic preacher who leads the church, is played by Joseph Mozello, best known as the boy in Jurassic Park. His sister Cassie is portrayed by Lindsay Pulsipher, seen as the were-panther girl in True Blood a few years back. It’s unclear is she’ll be sticking around, although she seems to have formed a tentative connection with Tim (Jacob Pitts).


One of the issues in the first half of the season, which seems to be further emphasised when Drew’s identity is revealed, is the discovery that nearly everyone we’ve met up to this point has a shady past. So Lindsey (Jenn Lyon), the landlady Waylan is having a fling with, suddenly turns out to be a former stick-up artist. And, lo and behold, FBI Agent Barkley (Stephen Tobolowsky) is in league with the Detroit mafia (4.5 Kin). It feels a bit weak, really.


By about this point, I was wondering when the big villain of the season would appear. It couldn’t be Colt (Ron Eldard), so maybe it would be Nicky Augustine. He kind of is, but he never attains the centrality of the previous year’s Quarles. Colt, however, is a superb creation; an Iraq vet (a former Military Policeman) and heroin addict who is unable to keep his psychotic impulses in check (and to think, in the first episode we even wonder if killing people might be anathema to him!


Colt allows a much more significant role for Tim this season (I seem to recall a suggestion that he might be gay a couple of seasons back, but this seems to have been left hanging). The two veterans circle each other throughout, first in Kin, again in 4.11 Decoy and finally get their own showdown in 4.12 Peace of Mind. It’s nice change to have someone other than Waylan getting to do the cool stuff, and it must also be an attractive carrot for the likes of Pitts and Erica Tazel (Rachel) that they’ll get something meaty if they’re patient.


Everyone is after Drew Thompson, but Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Ava (Joelle Carter) are also attempting to solve a problem like Ellen May (Abby Miller) after Colt takes his eye of her for a moment and she disappears (This Bird has Flown); they’re concerned that she won’t be able to keep her mouth shut about the crimes she has witnessed, so she has to be disposed of. While Ellen May is likably dim, and her relationship with Shelby (Jim Beaver) is genuinely touching, the Crowders’ plotlines don’t quite come together this season.


They’re almost entirely reactive, and it’s only when Colt is involved that sparks fly. I don’t really buy Ava countenancing disposing of Ellen May in the first place, so it’s laborious walk round to the point where she recognises this herself. Boyd is scrabbling about to be made the local heroin supplier by Wynn Duffy (the ever fantastic Jere Burns), to find Drew Thompson, deal with a pesky preacher or be put in his place by the local super-rich (4.7 Money Trap). None of it really grips, and Johnny’s increasing disgruntlement-come-betrayal of Boyd is all-too predictable. The carrot of Boyd winning Harlan’s heroin supply holds out hope for Season Five, but unlike in previous years his arcs have been on the weak side.


The lawmen have been favoured by material this year, though. Patton Oswalt’s Constable Bob ducks in and out of episodes as a wannabe great lawman who we wouldn’t be at all surprised to find meeting a nasty end while getting in over his head. Instead, Decoyoffers him the greatest worm-turning moment in recent TV/movie memory as he gets the better of sadistic hit man Yolo (Bobby Campo).


And then there’s the Sheriff. I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a number of viewers guessed that Shelby was Drew Thompson before it was confirmed in The Hatchet Tour. It occurred to me on the grounds that we should probably have encountered Drew well before his unmasking, and after the season hit the halfway mark it was probably wise to start looking around for recognisable contenders. Shelby first appeared in 2.5 Cottonmouth and I like how series’ characters evolve beyond their design, based on how well an actor works out (both Goggins and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul are good examples of this).


Yost has drawn on Shelby’s essential dignity cleverly, spinning out both his failings and virtues such that we’re relieved when he doesn’t meet the standard end for a Justifiedantagonist. Of course, that may be because the real bad guy is Nicky Augustine. If I haven’t mentioned how good O’Malley is, it’s because he sort of crept up on me; his performance is riveting in the last three episodes of the season, and he gets some great lines (requesting a translation for the verbose Boyd is a particular high point).


Justified’s light shows no signs of dimming, and I hope we get at least another three seasons. It doesn’t get the same attention as many of the current critics’ darling (Breaking Bad, Mad Men) or the ratings of some of the biggest cable shows (The Walking Dead, True Blood), but it deserves both. Season Four is a slight step down on the previous two, but it remains one of the top five shows on TV right now.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.

One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be free of the past.

Vertigo (1958) (SPOILERS) I’ll readily admit my Hitchcock tastes broadly tend to reflect the “consensus”, but Vertigo is one where I break ranks. To a degree. Not that I think it’s in any way a bad film, but I respect it rather than truly rate it. Certainly, I can’t get on board with Sight & Sound enthroning it as the best film ever made (in its 2012’s critics poll). That said, from a technical point of view, it is probably Hitch’s peak moment. And in that regard, certainly counts as one of his few colour pictures that can be placed alongside his black and white ones. It’s also clearly a personal undertaking, a medley of his voyeuristic obsessions (based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac).

You don’t know anything about this man, and he knows everything about you.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s two-decades-later remake of his British original. It’s undoubtedly the better-known version, but as I noted in my review of the 1934 film, it is very far from the “ far superior ” production Truffaut tried to sell the director on during their interviews. Hitchcock would only be drawn – in typically quotable style – that “ the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional ”. For which, read a young, creatively fired director versus one clinically going through the motions, occasionally inspired by a shot or sequence but mostly lacking the will or drive that made the first The Man Who Knew Too Much such a pleasure from beginning to end.