By Brendan Barnes, Staff Writer
FX's new series "Justified" starts out with a bang, but in this case not metaphorically.
The show opens promptly enough with U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens — played by Timothy Olyphant — meeting with an unnamed man at the restaurant atop a luxury Florida hotel. Although the man extends his courtesy, Givens laconically reveals that he has given the man twenty-four hours to leave town and that only one minute remains. Givens coolly counts down the seconds while his acquaintance panics in disbelief and finally pulls a gun. Without hesitation, Givens plays the gunslinger and fires, killing the man before he can even pull the trigger.
As a result of his unabashedly — and not unprecedented — public shooting, Givens is exiled back to his childhood home in Kentucky. Conveniently, there has been an attack on a "church" — a cover for an underground drug depot — and a subsequent murder that needs solving. Givens traces the trail, reigniting an old flame along the way with a woman who may have everything to do with the crimes he is trying to solve.
In the process of tracking down his suspect, Givens talks down heavily armed white supremacist gang members without even having to take out his gun. Eventually, he simply confronts his man, Boyd Crowder, and we see the two have a past together, mining coal. Despite their uneasy, but mutually respectful, friendship, Givens again gives an ultimatum, telling Crowder to be out of town in a day. The confrontation culminates in a dining room shootout at Crowder's sister-in-law's home, and Givens, perhaps intentionally, shoots Crowder without killing him.
What makes ‘Justified' so engaging is not the aggressive violence, but actually its athletic pace and its neo-Western style. Watching the pilot, it is nearly impossible not to taste the tinges of Sergio Leone or John Ford, and rightfully so, since the show is based on acclaimed writer Elmore Leonard's — who also penned the story on which the successful 2007 film "3:10 to Yuma" was based — stories. The show has a kind of pulpy feel, in that we see a meticulously fleshed out leading man surrounded by radiating circles of minor characters, including a complicated villain and a tainted and questionable damsel, who become less and less important the farther they are from Givens.
There is no doubt that the show revolves around Givens and what makes it work is Timothy Olyphant's authentic performance. He slides seamlessly into the role of a 21st century wild-west sheriff, assuming all the qualities of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. He drinks, he fights, he charms women, but he gets the job done. And though Olyphant is not yet as iconic as either of the two stars of the Western's golden years, give him time to grow into such big boots. But it is his brokenness that makes Olyphant's portrayal of Givens so credible and attractive.
Yes, he has an almost unnatural gift for gun slinging; but Givens also has a conflicted past, with a criminal father and an ex-wife, that cause him anguish as he tries to reconcile his own history with his present. And if his prowess and poise under pressure paint him as a hero, his complex and sometimes harsh personality makes him human. When Givens asks what she thinks of him, his ex-wife quietly realizes: "You're the angriest man I know."