FlixChatter Review: ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

Quentin Tarantino’s last two films were westerns, both were a tribute to his favorite genre, the spaghetti western. He’s now back with another tribute, this time to his favorite film decade and town, the 60s in Hollywood. Specifically 1969, the year that many people have said changed the Hollywood movie industry.

Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) was once a popular leading man starring in a hit western show in the 50s. But when his show got cancelled, his star power went with it. He’s only able to land villainous role but still had hopes that some director will hire him as the leading man in their film or TV show. On a night out with his best friend/body double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), they ran into a film producer named Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino).

Schwarzs made a proposition to Dalton, go to Italy and be a leading man in their Western films. Dalton was of course offended; he thinks he’s above that kind of films and doesn’t want to work outside of Hollywood. Obviously, QT is using Clint Eastwood’s real-life career as a model for Dalton’s in this film. Dalton decided to accept another villainous role in a western show starring James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant). He also tried to get his buddy Cliff some stunt work on the new show.

But Cliff’s reputation around town isn’t good, so when Dalton’s at work, he drives around Hollywood and one day meets a hippie named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley). Pussycat belongs to Charles Manson’s cult. Any fans of QT knows that his films don’t really have a plot, it just random things happening to the characters on the screen. And this film is no different. He introduced a bunch of famous people at that period of time including Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) who happens to be a neighbor of Dalton’s. The entire film is kind of a build-up to the murder of Tate’s and her friends by the Manson cult members.

Performances by DiCaprio and Pitt were great. DiCaprio really embraced the has-been actor role and he’s hilarious in every scene he’s in. Pretty sure he’ll get another Oscar nomination. Pitt’s character on the hand is more reserved. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have any funny lines, some of the scenes with Cliff were quite funny. Including a scene where he has a tussle with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). Robbie’s Tate on the hand, was more like a fantasy role. It’s hard to explain but maybe because Tate’s career was cut short because she was murdered and we don’t know much about her, and it’s the reason why QT wrote the character this way.

Visually, this is another stunning film shot by Tarantino’s regular cinematographer Robert Richardson. QT is one of the few filmmakers left in Hollywood that still prefer shooting in film, so this picture has that old school film look to it. With a reported budget of close to $100mil, QT’s largest production budget, he’s able to create the look and feel of the late 60s that I assume anyone who’s alive around that time would appreciate.

I don’t consider this to be one of QT’s best film, I think it’s middle of the road. At close to 3 hours longs, the film needed some further editing. There were several scenes that should’ve been cut or shorten. I think this is where QT’s longtime late editor Sally Menke would’ve helped and probably would’ve made the film a bit tighter. Also, the music selection and themes were quite forgettable. Many of his previous films contained great music but not this one.

It may not be one of his best work but it’s still better than many of the films currently playing in theaters right now. If you’re a fan of the actors or QT, then I would recommend you see this one at your local theater.

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So have you seen ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD? Well, what did you think?

Filmmaker Spotlight: John Irvin’s Triple Play

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Welcome, friends, fans and aficionados of film and television.

As does happen occasionally. An excavation and exploration of one topic can take a hop and a turn in another completely unexpected layer of depth and direction. As I found myself recently breaking the topsoil and troweling around the body of work accumulated by the long standing, versatile character actor, Tom Berenger. And my first introductions to his talents as executive officer to mercenary, Christopher Walken in The Dogs of War. Which will receive due diligence later in this critique.

When I came across a name. One that I had come across more than thirty years ago. Didn’t connect with until very recently. As the director of one of the flagship mini series of the late 1970s. Courtesy of PBS in 1983. Creating the grist for this.

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John Irvin Triple Play

#1: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979)

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After making a small, though reputable name for himself in short films, documentaries and projects for television. Mr. Irvin was given the daunting task of translating John Le Carre‘s worldwide bestselling novel. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy from paper to film.

A task that entailed seven full hour long episodes. With a sterling cast of talent populating the titled characters, From Sir Alec Guinness‘ Cold War, MI-6 operative, George Smiley. To Sir Ian Richardson‘s Golden Boy, Bill Hayden. Bernard Hepton‘s foppish, going nowhere, Toby Esterhase. Terence Rigby‘s perpetually broke Roy Bland. Anthony Bate‘s half way out the door, Sir Oliver Lacon and Michael Aldridge‘s prissy, arrogant and without a clue, Percy Alleline. All falling under suspicion for a years old failed and embarrassing mission into Czechoslovakia called ‘Testify’. Which would hopefully, flush the “mole” from MI-6’s Piccadilly headquarters (“Circus”). Redeem the tattered career of Alexander Knox’s “Control”. But instead would cost close to the life and career of always stalwart, Ian Bannen’s operative, Jim Prideaux.

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As mentioned earlier. No small task. In a tale that didn’t allow me to get past page 100. Until a third attempt. And then allowed me to then immerse myself. Once all the characters and plot were set in the oblique, sometimes frustrating mystique that is John Le Carre’s well renown stock in trade.

Thankfully, the thought of paring down the sweeping tale never crossed the writers’ or Mr. Irvin’s mind. Delivering in my opinion, the finest and detailed adaptation of a John leCarre novel on film. And yes, that includes Martin Ritt’s 1960s B&W The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

The characters, words and action seem to step from the pages. As a slight change in location from Hong Kong to Spain is hinted at in Hywell Bennett’s slimy take on discredited stringer, Rikki Tarr. And his persistent claim that there is indeed a mole in the circus. As mentioned by the wife of the Resident “Hood” Tarr had seduced. And who had died under lurid circumstances only days later. Creating the impetus to get first, Lacon. And Sir Alec’s George Smiley back in the saddle.

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Creating a fine example of what the British do best! Unraveling a mystery whose meat is the slowly revealed back stories, rivalries, adulteries and intrigues petty and large. Adding pieces large and small to the puzzle. That moves at its own sedate pace. Requiring sharp ears as well eyes for their revelation and proper place in the time line of spider webbed past events. Delivered by the likes of Beryl Reid’s Oxford Doyenne and “Russia Watcher”, Connie Sachs. John Standing’s razor sharp Sam Collins, who was babysitting the Circus’s Operations desk the night “Testify” blew up with the wounding and capturing of Jim Prideaux. And Joss Ackland’s retired spy and reporter, Jerry Westerby. Who had been in Czechoslovakia and found that sections of Russian infantry were prepared and waiting to spring that ambush.

And with that said. Is Mr. Irvin’s work better than the Thomas Alfredson directed re-make from 2011?…. Certainly! No doubt. Taken in perspective and with the availability of 1979 ‘A-List” talents available. Mr. Irvin does have the upper hand. And the luxury of time to spot locations and acquiring the novel’s author and Arthur Hopcraft to produce a remarkably faithful screenplay’ Which both adaptations adhere to. Though less so in the 2011 version. Which seems stripped down to key moments from the original seven episodes. And expounded upon and stretched to the next key scene. Creating an experience likened to a drive thru burger or fast food joint. When the earlier sumptuous original can just as easily be had.

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Kudos to the long list of producers, though. For acquiring Britain’s present assembly of top talent. Each works well within the confines of their characters. Some memorably. John Hurt’s “Control”. Toby Jones’ prissy Percy Alleline, David Dencik’s spineless, beholding to everyone Toby Easterhase. Tom Hardy’s equal to Hywell Bennett’s Rikki Tarr. Though Gary Oldman’s George Smiley and Mark Strong’s Jim Prideaux just seem to fall short. Physically and dramatically.

Overall Consensus:

Required viewing. Not just for the layered tale itself. But just to relax and bask in what Greatness can truly be!


#2: The Dogs of War (1980)

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I have early 1970s political journalist, novelist and storyteller, Frederick Forsythe to thank for my next chance meeting with Mr. Irvin’s surprising talent. In Mr. Forsythe’s second political intrigue primer and thriller, The Dogs of War, a world wide Best Seller from 1974. Which goes into great and grand detail the United Kingdom’s proclivities for employing deniable mercenaries to stage coups and overthrow small backwater African countries. Which have nothing to offer but Empire expansion, precious metals and perhaps, natural resources. Exotic or otherwise.

With its minor political damage done. The novel sat on shelves and was allowed a few years of cooling off. Before having its right purchased by producer, Norman Jewison. Then lateraled to director, John Irvin. Acquiring Gary DeVore, George Malko and Mr. Forsythe to render a remarkably faithful screenplay. Prior to setting up a superlative multi national cast and preparatory locations in London, Manhattan and Belize. Subbing for Paris and the fictional African country of Zangaro.

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The film’s principal character, mercenary Jamie “Cat” Shannon. Played to coiled spring, issue laden, believably paranoid, handgun in every room perfection by a young Christopher Walken. Is approached obliquely at first. And less so later. By impeccably suited and manicured representatives of unnamed British conglomerates. Led by smooth talking Endean (Hugh Millais). With a proposal. One that will require a lot more time, subtlety, finesse, intelligence gathering and reconnaissance than Cat’s benefactors had even contemplated!

Cat starts putting the band back together with late night telegrams and calls. The first is it his Second In Command, Drew. Who is married, with two daughters. Always looking for any reason to get out of the house. And is played with equal parts charm, humor and frightening intimidation by Mr. Berenger.

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Confident, energetic and meticulous. Drew shares the same kind of elan and fresh faced, rugged good looks that dooms him to be killed towards the end of the final reel. The same ironic fate shared by Mr. Walken in his earlier role as “The Kid” in The Anderson Tapes nine years earlier.

But for his time on screen, Mr. Berenger holds his own with and without Cat. Who prepares for an overt infiltration and recon of Zangaro. Arriving as any American would. With a surfeit of Duty Free cigarettes and alcohol. Which are immediately and ceremoniously confiscated. Shannon is allowed to go about his business. Meeting a British documentary director, Alan North (Colin Blakeley). A walking font of knowledge of Zangaro’s corrupt, tortuous history. With emphasis on the installation of puppet dictator, General Kimba four years earlier. And later photographing key buildings (Armory, Garrisons, Motor Pool, stone walled jails) in the company of Evelyn (Isabel Grandin), an attractive local woman.

Cover is where you find or create it. And Shannon’s lasts about as long as can be expected. Before he’s pulled from Evelyn’s bed. Arrested. Tortured and tossed in a cell with Zangaro’s version of Nelson Mandela, Dr. Okoye (Winston Ntshona). Who tends to Shannon’s wounds between beatings and long oblique discussions.

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Shannon is released and deported after two days. With the help of North. Who smells a story, but the wrong one. As Shannon returns to London and brief Endean that Kimba’s grip is too tight on his equally corrupt, but too scared subordinates. An internal coup is impossible. And that there had better be a “Plan B”.

There is. Endean offers Shannon $100,000 to invade Zangaro. Destroy as much military as possible. Kill Kimba and await the arrival of Kimba’s ousted rival, Colonel Bobi (George Harris). Who still owns Zangaro’s mineral rights. As the country’s new puppet dictator. Shannon says no, but Endean forwards a million dollars in expenses a few days later, anyway. And Shannon goes to work. Bouncing between New York, South America and Paris to arrange transportation for smuggled firepower. WWII German MP-40 sub machine guns, magazines and ammo packed in Cosmoline in the novel. Uzis and tricked out MAC-10s in the film (Courtesy IMFDb). Good for pistol range, close up work. But some Fire Support would be needed. Claymor Mines. Several M-60 machine guns. Two Manville 25mm. Projectile Launcher. Known as the “XM-18”. Loaded with smoke, fragmentation, Anti-Personnel and White Phosphorus shells.

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All used to great explosive effect once Cat, Drew and their crew and about 75 Zangaran expatriates land by Zodic rubber boats and blitzkrieg Kimba’s military compound. Which ends with Mr. Walken’s Cat delivering an ending no one sees coming!

Overall Consensus:

In what could be considered a “How To” film on the details and intricacies of Military-Industrial wheeling and dealing. From Endean’s betters’ initially flawed concept. To recruitment, acquisition of firepower. Its covert and illegal transport. And slow, methodical reconnaissance under the noses of the Zangaran police. Few films are better at revealing “the nuts and bolts” of intended coups and political overthrows.

Mr. Forsythe cast his nets wide for his novel. And Mr. Irvin kept the flavor and feel of rummaging through the journals of Colonel “Mad Mike” Hoare and his “3 Commando” in Africa, Or Paul Renard’s failed attempt at a coup to unseat Haiti’s “Papa Doc” Duvalier in the early 1970s.

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Extreme Kudos to veteran Cinematographer, Jack Cardiff for brief, though telling locations. Especially the Customs stop at the Calais piers. Where smuggled in oil drums are inspected by uniformed officials amid banter ef Francais. Without subtitles. Letting the dark damp mood and close quarters claustrophobia speak volumes while the armed driver sweats bullets under a calm facade, While Geoffrey string chamber music maintains suspense and tension throughout.

Film editing by Antony Gibbs is masterful. In trimming away all that is not needed. While keeping plenty of slack for verbal and silent nuance. And with Endean, Saville Row suited British arms dealers (Terrence Rigby, David Schofield) there is plenty of nuance!


I’m going to side step two of Mr. Irvin’s films. Raw Deal (1986) and Hamburger Hill (1987). Which I had thumb-nailed for Michael, over at It Rains… You Get Wet as part of my premier guest post years ago. And focus some criminally over due attention to a small gem from HBO cranked out during Hollywood’s return to “The Greatest Generation” and World War II with Saving Private Ryan. And before HBO’s flag ship, Band of Brothers.

Encompassing around 95 minutes. And shot on location along the tank trapping “Dragon’s Teeth” of the Siegfried Line and the Hungarian Border. And Germany. Lake Balaton and strategic dams beyond. A 50 square mile area of forest, hills and mountains occupied by polyglot units of US and German Infantry and armor escaping the Fallaise Gap and creating a time and life consuming bottleneck. Though the Germans have the high ground and upper hand in artillery. And every inch of forest marked off and dialed in for high altitude “Tree Bursts” of 75, 88mm and larger caliber tanks, self propelled and dug in gun positions.

Basically. A meat grinder. And a campaign I’d never heard about until finding it featured in a “Sgt. Rock” graphic novel from Vertigo comics. Which sent me on the path of Mr. Irvin’s offering. Which, to my knowledge is the only film about this six month (August 1944 to February, 1945) Pyhrric exercise in futility.

So, without further ado. Let’s take a look at…

#3: When Trumpets Fade (1998) a.k.a. The Battle For Hurtgen Forest

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Which begins with B&W stock Army footage of divisions of “Class A” parade dressed G.I.s marching through the Arche de Triumph in Paris. To George M. Cohan’s “Over There”. Signalling the months old occupation of France. The containment of German forces within their own country. And that the war may be over soon. Perhaps, by Christmas?

Cut to the sound of far off artillery and a cold, snowy, sunless and gray fogged November day. Where we are introduced to three day in country veteran, Pvt. David Manning (Ron Eldard). G Company. 28th Infantry Division. Returning back to American held lines after a disastrous patrol around the industrial town of Schmidt. Of which, Manning is its sole survivor. After leaving a too badly burned and injured to travel squad mate (Jeffrey Donovan ‘Burn Notice’) to die.

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Expecting to be called before the platoon’s “Highers”, Lieutenant Lukas (Timothy Olyphant, ‘Deadwood,’ ‘Justified’) and Commander of “C” Company. Captain Pritchett (Martin Donovan ‘Insomnia,’ ‘Ant-Man’) to be debriefed. Or chewed out. Instead, Manning is informed that of the fifty plus men who went out on that morning’s patrol. He is its sole survivor. Promoted to Sergeant. And given five fresh new replacement Privates. Overweight and spectacled Warren “Sandy” Sanderson (Zak Orth). Andrew Lonnie (Devon Gummerssall). Doug Despin (Dan Futterman) and Sam Baxter (Steven Petrarca) to fill out the ranks of Manning’s rifle squad. And Sgt. Manning’s first order to execute. Get to know his men. And take them out on a patrol to get them acclimated!

An elongated and suspenseful scene that magically blends the eerie quiet of the forest. The odd addition of falling snowflakes mixed with swirling embers from recently exploded and smoldering trees, And the dismal, thick ground fog. Courtesy of Cinematographer, Thomas Burstyn. Which slowly swallows Pvt. Sanderson whole within minutes of his being assigned “Point”.

Sanderson gets out too far ahead and becomes lost. Mostly due to the fog and lack of any recognizable landmarks. Hears a sound. Hides in the branches of a fallen Soft Pine tree. Hears and later, glimpses a similarly armed and lost German patrol. Waits. Holds his breath. Waits for the Germans to move. Falls back. Retraces his steps. Finds Manning and the squad. As a strategic retreat is decided upon.

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Once back at base there’s hot food and mail. Which Manning and others read as another “Push” in the offing. Though, with poor visibility. No close by landmarks. Outdated maps.No air cover. No aerial reconnaissance or recent photographs.The plan is far from perfect. Tanks will be used on the road leading to the bridge head on the outskirts of Schmidt. Infantry will be off the road. Flanking from the woods.With German artillery, tanks and infantry defending their turf every inch of the way. Tanks are shelled on and off the road and are quickly bogged down and destroyed. Artillery is good only for breaking contact and buying time for the Americans to retreat into mne fields. Chaos and confusion reign as individuals and units regroup. Barely containing panic as German tanks and self propelled guns follow the retreat back to camp and open fire in a spoiling raid.

The Germans leave. The American wounded are tended to in open air Aid Stations. While the dead are stripped of ammo and gear. Covered. And stacked like cord wood for Graves Registration. While Captain Pritchett calls Manning aside and negotiates the Sergeant into “volunteering” for a suicide mission. Take a squad armed with flame throwers to attack the German artillery emplacements, powder charges and shells from behind prior to the next morning’s “Push”.

Manning balks. Pritchett counters with a “Section 8” upon successful completion of the mission. The attack goes off well enough. Panicking the enemy more than actually destroying large numbers of artillery pieces. But it does cause enough delay for the Americans to break the bottle neck at the Schmidt bridge head. At the cost of Bazter being executed by Manning for running away. His flame thrower alight and more of a danger to the squad than the Germans. Steeling the rest to hold their ground and give covering fire to Sanderson as he burns two 88mm. howitzers and their crews.

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The bottom seems to be falling out on both sides as fresh replacements are brought forward. LT. Lukas cracks under pressure. Captain Pritchett killed holding the bridge. The Lt. Colonel (Dwight Yoakum) shows up and is none too pleased. Captain Zenek (Bobby Cannavale, ‘Blue Bloods’) takes command of “C” Company and takes Manning aside. For a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant. His own platoon. And marching orders for tomorrow’s final “Push”.

But Manning has other ideas. Another pre dawn raid. With more men and bazookas. To create as much havoc and destroy as many tanks as possible before what’s left of “C” Company steps off. Creating another near trademark ironic ending for Mr. Irvin once the smoke starts to clear. With a seriously wounded and bleeding out Manning riding on Pvt. Sanderson’s back. As he tries to find friendly lines less than a mile away.

Overall Consensus:

Since there is so little known and put to paper about this campaign. Due to it being dwarfed by the far more intriguing and dramatic “Battle of The Bulge”. There are not alot of historic landmarks or date to attach to this six month meat grinder that accounted for 33.00 US casualties from a rotation of ten US Infantry and one Army Air Corps Wing. And 28,000 German casualties among Infantry. armor, one parachute and five Home Guard (Volksstrum) divisions.

In an Order of Battle that began much like Gettysburg. In a series of skirmishes between US troops and Germans fleeing France. And quickly became a salient and center of battle once the Germans began massing and organizing units. Doing what Germans have always done best. Counter attacking. Taking ground and buying time during one of the worst winters in Germany’s history. In hopes of possibly negotiating something other than unconditional surrender.

So, the idea of a Private being bumped to Sergeant and later, 2nd Lieutenant solely due to personal survival skills versus attrition may not seem so strange in filling out the TO &E of a nearly decimated Company. Manning adapts. Even though he doesn’t want to.Thinking on the fly and leading. Which is what NCOs and junior grade officers are supposed to do.

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Does the film work?… Oh, yes! As stated before. Cinematography by Thomas Burstyn performs minor miracles of foreboding and dread with varying shades of gray, black and white among the forests. While making the most of cramped, lamp lit interiors. Throwing shadows across men’s faces as they are told to perform the impossible. And perhaps, die in the event?

Music by Geoffrey Burgon is occasionally of its time. But shifts to orchestral to heighten dram and move action along. While Art and Decorating departments to numerous to mention press the illusion that you are in an Eastern European version of Hell. And that there is no way out!


Author’s Note:

All the films noted here are available on You Tube. And are fine examples that like his fellow director, Martin Ritt. Mr. Irvin can get the most from casts of character actors from both sides of the pond. While creating long enduring, sometimes elegant. Often down and dirty “Guy Flicks”.

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Check out Kevin G’s other posts and reviews


Agree? Disagree? Wish to offer personal choices? The Floor Is Open For Discussion!

Tube Watch: 5 Reasons Why FX’s ‘Justified’ Rocks Out Loud!

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Greetings all and sundry!

Having gotten family Thanksgiving feasting and festivities out of the way a few days early. And indulging in minor Tryptophan comas through many variations of sumptuous leftovers. I’ve decided to make good on a debt or favor and honor to our Hostess, Ruth.

Accumulating information, intelligence and perspective on a well budgeted, thought out and executed extension of the Twentieth Century Fox television derivative, FX. And their inspired doubling down and betting it all on one series. As successfully done with their previous offering,”The Shield”. And again coming out on top!

The series in question isn’t exactly a Western. Nor is it what I consider a full fledged or procedural “Cop show”. Though it has topics, drama and situations taken from both genres. Cleverly updated and blended together in ways that only veteran novelist and writer, Elmore Leonard could conjure up and bring to tense, sometimes comedic life.

So, allow me a few moments of your time to delve in, peel back layers and hopefully lay bare a perspective on one of the more enigmatic, yet surprisingly addictive series of this decade with:

5 Reasons Why FX’s ‘Justified’ Rocks Out Loud!

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Though not given a numerical value that might place one specific above another. I am going to be au courant and simply state the reasons. Since each is an integral part of the others. And how well they mesh to create superlative adult entertainment.

The Writing

The foundation of any series, film, feature or short subject lays trapped inside the writers’ imagination. And how well those thought and ideas flow through to paper. And later, processor or lap top. And few are better than master novelist and screenwriter, Elmore “Dutch” Leonard.

Whose pedigree runs from the 1950s heydays of Budd Boetticher’s low budgeted, Randolph Scott films (‘The Tall T’). Through the original ‘3:10 to Yuma’. Both renditions of ‘Hombre’. To ‘The Moonshine War’, ‘Valdez Is Coming’, ‘Joe Kidd’, ‘Mr. Majestyk’ and ’52 Pick Up’. And later, more recognizable efforts, ‘Get Shorty’, ‘Jackie Brown’. Television’s ‘Karen Sisco’ and low budgeted, mid west winter revenge flick, ‘Killshot’,

JUSTIFIED_FX_GrahamYostAdd an eye for minor details with Graham Yost (HBO’s ‘Band of Brothers’ and major Wild West meets Shakespeare cult class series, ‘Deadwood’). And you have the makings of grittily modernizing the “Old Gunslinger comes to town” premise. Add a few love interests. The odd family and home town feuds. Old school (Moonshine) and updated forms (Grass, Oxycotin and Heroin) of illegal recreational pharmacology. Bracing old friends and new snitches. Serving warrants and transporting prisoners. And you have a continuing tale and mixture that pays off in ways unimagined!

With the writing for the ever developing. overall idea nicely tied up. We move to:

The Locations

With the sunny beaches south of Miami used as a backdrop for a Han Solo and Greedo like sit down showdown with a mid tier Columbian drug runner to get the story moving westward during the series’ pilot and premiere episode. Then shifting ever so quickly to the rustic, quaint and near antique confines of Harlan, Kentucky. Talent is needed to find just the right look and feel of a town and outskirts that architecturally haven’t left the 1960s.

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And that’s where Jared Kurt, Andrew Keeler and Eric Klosterman come in. Finding out of the off the beaten path and less accessible way places, townships, railway heads, trestle bridges and occasional steam powered locomotives and trains to add back woods and water authenticity. Where forested, hilly, coal country Kittaning and up against the Appalachian and Ohio border, Washington, Pennsylvania come into their own. Though much more in the second season and beyond. Where coal, mining, land sales, drug deals, the “Dixie Mafia”, organized crime out of Detroit and local politics move to the fore. Not exactly a perfect, restored time capsule when dealing with contemporary eyesores, safety rails and the like. But a pleasantly rewarding treasure trove for those who appreciate the look and feel minor details add to an organic domestic mix. Accepting and often looking forward to these tidbits, because of their solidity and tangibility.

While Santa Clarita and the outskirts of Pasadena, California fill in for the rustic and slightly time warped main drag and town square of Kentucky’s capital, Frankfort. Its court houses, municipal buildings and the more affluent parts of cities and towns where the movers and shakers on both sides of the law and criminal scale live and do business,

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Sets of all shape, size and devotion to detail abound. From the Marshall’s office in Harlan with computers on every desk and a flat screen televisions in the boss’ office. To the incredibly old time clap board country and general store of “Mags” Bennett (Margo Martindale, magnificent and made for the role!). The tough as nails, seemingly omniscient matriarch of a low scale crime clan way out in the hills. And several old, disused and forgotten coal mines and shafts which fill a more lucrative purpose. Add some Honky Tonk bars. Dirt floored and otherwise. Mobile home and trailer-ed brothels of the series’ main nemesis. And watch some magic go to work!

Which moves us along to those who ride herd and maintain control over all this largesse of imagination and logistics.

The Directors

Far too many to mention here. Though the number tops out at twenty. With notables being Adam Arkin (Who also has a cameo role as elegant Detroit mob shot caller, Theo Tonin). Who came on board early and has a nice touch for the series tone, grit and occasional irony and humor. While honing his near veteran skills with two episodes for each season.

Followed closely by crime connoisseur and master of Neo Noir, John Dahl (‘The Last Seduction’, ‘Red Rock West’, ‘Rounders’) Who brings out the “Tough Guy” talk and image beautifully in the Good Guys, Bad Guys, crews and clans memorably the early seasons and beyond. While Jon Avnet has a real penchant for introducing and fleshing out new, often returning characters and the beginning of major twists seasons before they sometime disastrously occur. And leaves some slack to expand upon for Peter Werner, Tony Goldwyn, Don Kurt and Peter Werner to run and play with.

Creating a fluid, uninterrupted canvas for this cabal of visual choreographers to deliver solid consistent work. About the only director who hasn’t been called in to add his perspective is Peter Weller (“Robo Cop’, ‘Shakedown’), who has been doing superior work directing and being a crooked retired police chief on FX’s ‘Sons of Anarchy’!

Which brings us to the meat of the series. Split into two groups.

The GOOD and BAD Guys

THE GOOD GUYS

Relatively small in numbers. As is befitting any continuing tale of Good versus Evil.

Raylan Givens: Veteran U.S. Marshall. Tall, lean nonconformist. Made for denim jeans, jacket, chambray shirt, Tony Lama boots and a wide brimmed, down turned Stetson. That he absolutely rocks. Even in Mimi, Florida! A fast and deadly accurate shot. Reassigned back to Harlan after a controversial shooting. Played with a wise, sly, cynical smile by Timothy Olyphant (HBO’s ‘Deadwood’, ‘Live Free or Die Hard’, ‘Hitman’, ‘The Crazies’).

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Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens

Art Mullen: Raylan’s unassuming “Been There. Done That” boss. Elder statesmen, mentor and conscience to Raylan and his squad. Overweight, Long of tooth. Up for retirement. Yet knowing more about his stomping ground, feuds and secrets than he lets on. Embodied near flawlessly by baritone, veteran character actor, Nick Searcy (‘Castaway’, ‘Moneyball’, ‘The Ugly Truth’, ‘To Appomattox’).

Rachel Brooks: (Erica Tazel) So much more than meets the eye. Smart, clever, efficient, quiet. Yet very proud of her being a Marshall. And not adverse to drawing and using her sidearm or shotgun.Can read most men in less than a minute. Slated to take Art’s place upon retirement. Huge potential for an actress just starting out. And showing the chops to stay ahead of the pack.

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Erica Tazel

Tim Gutterson: (Jacob Pitts. HBO’s ’21’, ‘The Pacific’, ‘Euro Trip’) The squad’s long range rifleman and occasional back up for Raylan. Former Army sniper with multiple tours in Afghanistan and the desert. Equally proficient with a pistol. Doesn’t talk much, because he really doesn’t need to. Also a dead ringer for a younger Chris Cooper! Possessing quiet “Old Time Toughness” as well as a bit of sly when confronting criminals.

ADA David Vasquez: (Rick Gomez: HBO’s ‘Band of Brothers’, ‘Sin City) Up and coming Federal Prosecutor trying to “make his bones” and a name for himself far away from the power players in Washington, DC. Fast talking. Too shrewd by half. Knows Raylan’s gun slinging reputation and wants to capitalize on it to his advantage.

Judge Mike Reardon: (Stephen Root: ‘Office Space’, ‘Fargo’, ‘News Radio’) No nonsense judge who carries a licensed pistol under his robes. And has a red Swingline stapler atop his desk beside the blotter and phone in his chambers!

Which leaves the floor open for:

THE BAD GUYS

Many with extended families and cousins. Most vying for supremacy. Or control of a criminal beyond the reach of their respective towns or counties.

Boyd Crowder: Criminally under rated Walton Goggins, Channeling Shane Vendrell of FX’s earlier, ‘The Shield’. Finally being the Outlaw he was meant to be. Sly, smooth. With a chess player’s mind and a scary familiarity with violence. Had worked in the mines as a youth with Raylan. Very handy with explosives.

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Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder

“Mags” Bennett: (Margo Martindale: ‘Million Dollar Baby’, ‘The Hours’, Orphan’) Hard luck woman. Matriarch of the Bennett clan. Sons Doyle, Dickie and Coover. Sells Moonshine (“Apple Pie”) and decent grass. When not trying to get family land from a fading coal company.

The Crowes: Daryl Crowe, Jr. (Michael Rapaport). Muscle bound ‘roid raged bully and small time grafter with delusions of grandeur. Danny Crowe (AJ. Buckley. Lab nerd on ‘CSI:NY’ turn in a bravura turn as a knife freak fixated on challenging men with guns from a distance. Dewey Crowe (Damien Harrison). Skinny. Loud mouthed. Former gator poacher. Possibly the most hapless criminal in Florida or Kentucky. Nose broken by Raylan early on lead to a lawsuit and payoff that bring Dewey’s cousins ruing at the scent of opportunity and money!

The Crowe Brothers
The Crowe Brothers

Wynn Duffy: (Jere Burns) Represents “The Dixie Mafia” as front man and “arranger”. Always mobile in a Winnebago. Constantly stuck in the middle of attention drawing Turf Wars. Thinks his talents are misplaced.And would rather be elsewhere.

Robert Quarles: (Neal McDonough. Another ‘Band of Brothers’ alum) Enforcer for the Detroit syndicate. Sexual sadist and usually calm sociopath. Favors a two shot derringer in a forearm to wrist slide rig.

Ellstin Limehouse: (Mykelti Williamson: ‘Forrest Gump;, ‘CSI:NY) Overseer to an historic hollow where slaves were left alone to thrive. post Antebellum. Shot caller fo many gangs throughout the state. And not adverse to the odd bank robbery.

Which leads us to:

The Ladies in Attendance

Winona Hawkins: (Natalie Zea) ADA for Harlan County. Former girlfriend of Raylan. Smarter than she lets on. Though sometimes lets emotions get in the way.

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Natalie Zea

Eva Crowder: (Joelle Carter) Married to Boyd’s cousin Johnny, whom she shoots with a Deer Rifle at the dinner table in the series premiere. Falls for Raylan. Then Boyd. To become the font of knowledge of criminal activity in Harlan. And Boyd’s woman. A hard luck. Hard loving woman. Who may just be out for herself, after all.

Wendy Crowe: (Alicia Witt) The only Crowe to earn a law degree. And not bashful about using that knowledge gaming others and The System to her and her son’s advantage. Pretty, clever. Dreams big. But manages with just enough to get by.

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Alicia Witt and Michael Rapaport

Katherine Hale: (Mary Steenburgen: ‘Joan of Arcadia; ‘Elf’, ‘Sunshine State’) Back up for Wynn Duffy. Elegant, fetching. Heart of ice. May or may not off Wynn during this last season.

Loretta McCready: (Kaitlyn Dever) A teenage girl with the mind far beyond her years. Whose father was killed by Coover Bennett and sought revenge. Then redemption. Every bit as sly as the boys and a perfect foil for Raylan!

Overall Consensus:

A series that has done surprisingly well. With its first season devoted to character introductions and small scale crime. That has smartly built on copious notes taken and expounded upon in later seasons. Whose script writing team wisely hangs around at the ready for new ideas from its constantly expanding cast and directors. Creating memorable scenes on the fly with Margo Martindale. Hints of the beginnings of the blood feud between the Bennett and the Givens clans. Or Damien Harrison’s Dewey Crowe for incredibly shameless comic relief.

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Margo Martindale w/ Olyphant

But the real meat of the series is the continuous slow raging war for supremacy between Raylan and Boyd. A perfect team up of wits. The give and take of discussion that Boyd makes sure work to his advantage. Add an endless stream of often returning bad guys. And variations on slowly solidifying schemes. And an episode rarely ends the way anyone predicted!.

Toss in well tended Art and Set Direction, Dressing and Continuity. And Stunt and Special Effects men too numerous to mention. Music by Steve Porcaro. Notable late night, middle of nowhere location cinematography. And you have the makings of superb adult television!


Author’s Notes:
I’ve only scratched the surface in as concise a thumb nail and sketch as I can manage. There are multiple clips, tributes, mash ups, interviews and complete episodes from the previous five seasons of ‘Justified’ n You Tube and IMDb


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