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Justified: Season 1 - Review

Justified: Season 1

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

TIMOTHY Olyphant scored another huge TV success (following his work in both Deadwood and Damages) with Justified, a contemporary western that boasts Elmore Leonard as executive producer.

Based on a character created from the legendary crime novelist’s own novella, Fire In The Hole, the first season follows the fortunes of Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens (Olyphant) as he is exiled to his hometown of Harlan County, Kentucky for the shooting of a Miami drug cartel hit man.

The shooting in question, while ‘justified’, raises debate over his renegade style of law enforcement, but while sending him home looked a safe bet, it isn’t long before Givens’ no-nonsense style attracts the attention of key players from his past, as well as cartel hierarchy desperate for revenge.

Joining Givens throughout the first season, meanwhile, are an estranged father (Raymond J Barry’s Arlo), an ex-wife (Natalie Zea’s Winona, now re-married), a former flame (Joelle Carter’s Ava) and a former friend turned violent bank robber (Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder) – all of whom have reasons for complicating Givens’ life for better or worse.

As you might expect from a series based around the work of Leonard, the script sparkles and is as slick as they come… while the action sequences are executed with a ruthless authenticity that makes each one memorable in its own right.
But it’s the characters who take centre stage… all of whom are afforded enough screen-time to become as flawed as they are fascinating, richly layered and unpredictable.

Givens, himself, is a man carrying a deep-rooted anger, which he struggles to always control, and which Olyphant turns into a fascinating exploration – for while Givens may have resolute values, he’s often prone to foolish decision making.

Goggins, too, shines as the renegade Crowder, whose transformation from violent backwoods hill-billy to Bible-bashing do-gooder is continually intriguing – particularly as he plays his motivations close to his chest.

Both Zea and Carter are also given plenty to do in the emotional stakes and are far more than mere damsels in distress (despite having to be saved by Givens on several occasions), while Barry’s vitriolic Arlo is a suitably wily presence… a father who has little time for his son, and who would sooner sell him out if it means saving his own skin.

Indeed, the first season of Justified is populated by great characters… all of whom slowly combine to create one of the most memorable first season climaxes of the year – an all guns blazing finale that really underlines its hard-hitting Western elements.

The pilot, too, was a barn-stormer, while several of the one-off episodes (which began, admittedly, a little fragmented), soon came into their own, helping to build a compelling overall scenario that made the prospect of each new episode an exciting one.

It’s worth keeping an eye out, therefore, for the likes of Long In The Tooth, Hatless and The Hammer… as well as the closing episodes Veterans and Fathers And Sons, in which Goggins’ motivations become clear.

The good news is that Justified has already been given a second season, which makes this first season all the more satisfying. For it’s a great piece of entertainment, driven by Olyphant’s enigmatic (and, dare we say, Eastwood-like) leading presence and Leonard’s way with words. It rates as one of the small screen successes of the year.

Certificate: 15
Episodes: 13
UK DVD Release: November 29, 2010