Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Woody Allen Reveals Cast of His Next Film Woody Allen Reveals Cast of His Next Film Teasing More Toronto Reveals: How the Festival Landed Opener 'Demolition' and that Secret Michael Moore Doc Teasing More Toronto Reveals: How the Festival Landed Opener 'Demolition' and that Secret Michael Moore Doc The Surprisingly Complicated Legacy of 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart' The Surprisingly Complicated Legacy of 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart' Robert Pattinson Follows Harmony Korine to Miami for Revenge Thriller 'The Trap' Robert Pattinson Follows Harmony Korine to Miami for Revenge Thriller 'The Trap' Weinstein Co. and Radius Figure Out Hybrid Amazon Release Plan for Fassbender's 'Macbeth' Weinstein Co. and Radius Figure Out Hybrid Amazon Release Plan for Fassbender's 'Macbeth' Top 10 Takeaways: 'Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation' Opens Strong, But Summer 2015 Has Peaked Top 10 Takeaways: 'Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation' Opens Strong, But Summer 2015 Has Peaked Arthouse Audit: Controversy Reigns as 'End of the Tour' Tops Limited Newbies and Weinstein Dumps Jeunet's Latest Arthouse Audit: Controversy Reigns as 'End of the Tour' Tops Limited Newbies and Weinstein Dumps Jeunet's Latest Friday Box Office: Cruise and 'Mission: Impossible' Do Their Part, But Grosses Lag Friday Box Office: Cruise and 'Mission: Impossible' Do Their Part, But Grosses Lag Fall Calendar Reveals Awards Itinerary and Stealth Contenders Fall Calendar Reveals Awards Itinerary and Stealth Contenders Sarajevo Film Fest Lineup Has Auteurs, Cannes Winners and Favorites Sarajevo Film Fest Lineup Has Auteurs, Cannes Winners and Favorites Jason Segel Takes On David Foster Wallace in Controversial 'End of the Tour' (VIDEO) Jason Segel Takes On David Foster Wallace in Controversial 'End of the Tour' (VIDEO) First Look: Cynthia Nixon Plays—and Narrates—Emily Dickinson in Two Films First Look: Cynthia Nixon Plays—and Narrates—Emily Dickinson in Two Films Troubled Western 'Jane Got a Gun' Rescued as Relativity Files for Bankruptcy (Updated) Troubled Western 'Jane Got a Gun' Rescued as Relativity Files for Bankruptcy (Updated) Read Martin Scorsese's Column on His Favorite Hollywood Leading Ladies Read Martin Scorsese's Column on His Favorite Hollywood Leading Ladies A Woman in Charge: Warner Bros. Names Sue Kroll Head of Global Distribution A Woman in Charge: Warner Bros. Names Sue Kroll Head of Global Distribution 'The Witch' Won't Open Until 2016, But Its Sundance-Winning Director Has a New Film 'The Witch' Won't Open Until 2016, But Its Sundance-Winning Director Has a New Film How HBO's 'Ballers' Fails Sports Fans How HBO's 'Ballers' Fails Sports Fans Showtime Chief on David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks' Revival: "It's His Show" Showtime Chief on David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks' Revival: "It's His Show" Toronto Film Festival Lineup: What Did They Get? Toronto Film Festival Lineup: What Did They Get? Jill Soloway Says "There Is an All Out-Attack" on Female Filmmakers Jill Soloway Says "There Is an All Out-Attack" on Female Filmmakers

'Justified,' and 'Southland' Finales: Meet Hardboiled Director Don Siegel

Thompson on Hollywood By Terry Curtis Fox | Thompson on Hollywood April 13, 2012 at 7:11PM

Watching the final few episodes of "Justified" (which ended its season this week) as well as "Southland" and the more pretentious "The Killing," I found myself thinking about Don Siegel, the mid-century hardboiled director whose films epitomized an unpretentious, corrosive vein of American cinema.
0
Timothy Olyphant in "Justified"
Timothy Olyphant in "Justified"

Watching the final few episodes of "Justified" (which ended its season this week) as well as "Southland" (which may or may not be returning next year) and the more pretentious (but truly compelling) "The Killing", I found myself thinking, a lot, about Don Siegel, the mid-century hardboiled director whose films epitomized an unpretentious, corrosive vein of American cinema when there was more to American cinema than spectacle, colon comedies, and varieties of low-budget.

It’s become a commonplace to say that television has become the repository of character-driven drama; what’s becoming clear is that the kind of complex crime film in which Siegel excelled is now only to be found on the home screen.

"Justified" and "Southland" in particular are precisely the kind of crime stories that used to fill the schedule: rich in character, morally complex, and revelatory of place. There’s a truly refreshing lack of pretention in both shows’ story-telling: they pretend to simply entertain and can be taken as such by any casual viewers.

As "Justified" has unfolded through its three seasons, Graham Yost and his writing staff have evolved a truly ingenious way of keeping the series fresh: call it an accretion of villains.

Raylan Givens is a U.S. Marshal, and therein lies a story-telling problem: the marshals’ service jurisdiction is limited. By surrounding Raylan with miscreants he knows (and anchoring the show in a specific location) as well as keeping open cases, the writers hide the fact that Raylan’s main job is chasing fugitives. (If you’re chasing a fugitive, you don’t actually to get to interact with your antagonist.)

The one weakness the series had in its second season was that it tended to treat its Appalachian characters in a stereotyped manner. By adding Detroit interloper Robert Quarrells to the mix – and then broadening out with the barbecue-and-butchery of Mykelti Williamson’s Limehouse – the stew was greatly thickened. Season two’s Dickie Bennett was retained and given a new running arc. I’d put good money down that Limehouse will be around for season four. (As for Quarrells, I’d say bets are hedged.)

Instead of simply having a closed story with a new villain for each year, Justified is doing something new: it introduces a new target each season but keeps at least one bad guy from each previous season. The world of the show thus gets richer with each new year.

The final episode (teleplay by Fred Golan from a story by Yost) went deep into the acid bath of family; in its last scene (big spoiler alert here), Raylan was telling his pregnant ex-wife how his father Arlo had nearly committed patricide, literally choosing to kill his own son in defense of a surrogate who just happens to be the man Raylan most despises in the world.

This is dark stuff, yet, unlike "The Killing" (whose dour Scandinavian ancestry somehow survives its American adaptation), Justified manages to be as light-touched as it is acidic. No wonder I’m reminded of Siegel.

Finally, a tip of the hat to "Southland," which has been flying far under the radar. It’s been the best procedural on TV for years – despite having lost budget, characters, and creator Ann Biderman. Like "Justified," "Southland" goes about its business without pretense but with truly compelling characters and a quiet insistence that it will cover all of L.A., from the richest to the poorest neighborhoods. It’s that social complexity that has made the show sing. Let’s hope this season was not a swan song.
 

This article is related to: Television, TV, Reviews, Reviews, TV Reviews


E-Mail Updates








Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.