In the subsequent decades, any of us who call ourselves geeks, who have become enamored with exploitation movies or Asian cinema, owe a debt to Quentin Tarantino. But, it goes further back than that. We also owe a debt of gratitude to Elmore Leonard for helping to build Quentin Tarantino.
Quentin has said early and often he learned to write by reading Leonard’s novels. I’m assuming most people know this, but Quentin’s third film, Jackie Brown, was based on an Elmore Leonard novel called Rum Punch.
If Quentin Tarantino is our patron saint, then Elmore Leonard is our great grandfather. It’s always been sort of bewildering to me that pretty much with the exceptions of Tarantino and Steven Soderberg (Out of Sight is still one of my all-time favorite movies), nobody seems to understand how to adapt Elmore Leonard for the screen.
At this point we must add Justified showrunner Graham Yost to the “gets it” list, as his show, now entering its fourth season on FX, may be the best Leonard adaptation yet. Yost and his cast and crew simply nail the Leonard tone from the first scene of the pilot episode, and if the first two installments of the latest season are any indication, they’ve really got it down to a fine science by now.
When we last saw Deputy US Marshall Raylan Givens (played with a perfect blend of Old West swagger and pathos by Timothy Olyphant), he had just “dis-armed” carpetbagging gangster Robert Quarells while Rayaln’s pregnant ex-wife Winona had left him.
Season Four starts with a flashback from the early '80s, as a parachutist crashes into a cul-de-sac. The identity of that dead man seems very likely linked to Raylan’s incarcerated and demented father Arlo (the great character actor Raymond J. Barry). This mystery will be the through line on which the season will hang, and it’s already shaping up to be a good one.
Also a factor is the hillbilly criminal mastermind Boyd Crowder, played by the stupendous Walton Goggins (in a nice bit of full-circle geek synergy, Goggins was recently featured in Django Unchained). Goggins is his usual great self, and I can’t wait for Boyd and Raylan to interact as Goggins and Olyphant share really dynamite chemistry.
New to Harlan County this year is Rev. Billy, a snake handling tent revival preacher played by Joseph Mazello. (You may remember him as one of the two kids in Jurassic Park.) It seems that Rev. Billy’s saving of souls has cut into Boyd’s drug demand, which is going to be a problem seeing as Boyd saw himself as a born again prophet in Season One, only to have his faith destroyed.
Patton Oswalt has shown up as Constable Bob, and old high school buddy of Raylan’s with eyes on being a real cop one day. And, Ron Eldard arrives as a Gulf War buddy of Boyd’s, a former MP gone to the dark side like an Evil Jack Reacher.
Justified is a masterpiece of TV style, getting the Leonard dialogue just right and balancing the character beats expertly with the humor and the gunplay. It’s found its stride and is a very, very confident show that’s really firing on all eight cylinders. Incidentally, we are two sessions into the new season, and so far Raylan hasn’t shot anybody yet.
It’s good to be back in Harlan County.