Posted in: FX, Opinion, TV, TV | Tagged: elmore leonard, fx, justified, Justified: City Primeval, raylan givens, Timothy Olyphant
By putting Raylan Givens into an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel, Justified: City Primeval makes impressive improvements upon the book.
Justified: City Primeval is the fulfillment of two long-awaited Elmore Leonard projects combined into one: the return of U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens and a screen adaptation of Leonard’s City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit at last. The surprise is that it improves & builds upon the novel in a number of ways.
City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit is considered by Leonard fans as the jewel in the crown of his crime novel catalogue. It solidifies many of the common tropes in Leonard’s crime novels: an arrogant, psychopathic criminal, the relentless cop who’s out to stop him, and the supporting cast of orbiting eccentrics, allies, and accomplices around them. Here, gleefully unrepentant career criminal and killer “Oklahoma Wildman” Clement Mansell murders a corrupt judge in a road rage and finds the judge’s ledger containing the activities of all the corrupt key figures in the city and tries to extort an Albanian gangster with it. Homicide detective Raymond Cruz becomes Mansell’s nemesis as he pursues Mansell and, determined to stop his rampage, starts to manipulate circumstances to drive Mansell into a direct confrontation with him.
Raylan Givens is another lawman character created by Leonard who became the star of the Justified TV series. As played with a sly comedic edge by Timothy Olyphant, Givens is a walking anomaly – one of the last old-school cowboys that both colleagues and criminals fear might shoot before he thinks. Givens is fueled by a deep core of rage that his enemies often either sense or tragically underestimate, making him the most dangerous guy in the room. He’s not even always aware of his own rage.
“Justified” & “City Primeval,” Two Great Tastes that Taste Great Together
With Justified: City Primeval, Givens replacing the more generic Cruz as the main cop hero vastly improves the story. The series is a sequel to Justified – Givens is older but not always wiser, now with a teenage daughter as he’s roped into helping the cops in Detroit investigate and hunt Mansell to stop him before he kills more people. Leonard fans may praise the book, but to read it now is to see that it hasn’t aged very well. Leonard, already a screenwriter, wrote the book in 1978-79 before its publication in 1980, so it’s full of 1970s cop movie and genre tropes that are now considered tired and regressive. Raymond Cruz is a generic stoical cop with a chip on his shoulder and a lot to prove. 1970s attitudes to women abound in the book, including a female reporter who presses Cruz on why he doesn’t open up about his work like frustrated wives do, only to be presented with the horrors he prefers to suppress. Female police officers, lawyers, and professionals are more commonplace and less commented on as an “exotic thing” in the show. Funnily enough, the corrupt judge, played by Keith David, is less sleazy, sexist, and craven – generally less horrible than he is in the book. Mansell, played by Boyd Holbrook, is more sleazily charming and loquacious in the show on top of the brutal thug in the book.
In every season of Justified, Raylan Givens’ pursuit of the big bad becomes personal and Justified: City Primeval is no different. Mansell threatens Givens’ teenage daughter, which gives Raylan all the reason to take him down. It gives him a personal reason to manipulate circumstances to force Mansell into a showdown that lets him kill him lawfully. The series will probably follow the same arc as the book that way. Maybe purists might complain about the book being changed (we haven’t heard so far), but the show is more interesting and compelling from the changes.
Justified: City Primeval is streaming on Hulu.
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