Elmore Leonard should be one of the easiest writers to adapt for film. His books are so cinematic and straightforward that his prose should just pour onto the pages of the screenplay. Leonard’s own philosophy mirrored that more of a screenwriter than novelist. Two of his famous rules were “If it sounds like writing, then rewrite it” and ” Try to leave out the parts the readers will skip over.” Leave it to Hollywood to screw up one of the most foolproof authors to adapt. Well, most of the time. There have been a few shining examples. The most notable, of course, is Justified. Much of the success of Justified, and its translation to the screen, is due in large part to showrunner, Graham Yost. The series is based on a short story “Fire in the Hole” and Yost attributes the success of the pilot to the literal adaptation of the short story.
But it was the two leads, Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens and Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder, who sent the series into the stratosphere. They bring to life the complexities of Leonard’s characters more perfectly than nearly anyone else to date. The only pity is that Raylan and Boyd are usually adversarial and so the two actors do not have as many scenes together as you would like. Neither are overtly good guys, either. Raylan has a quick temper and an itchy trigger finger. He lives the life of a frat boy and his existence is one wrong step or a stray bullet from falling apart. By contrast, Boyd Crowder’s life, as the series has progressed, has something of a look of normalcy to it, despite still being on the wrong side of the law. He has a woman who loves him and who he is devoted to, in spite of the fact that it’s his brother’s ex-wife, Ava. Bowman, Boyd’s brother, beat Ava and she killed him. Raylan used to care for Ava, and Boyd’s feelings for her, coupled with the fact that Boyd was able to do the one thing Raylan hasn’t so far—find normalcy with a woman—made the two even more bitter rivals.
Olyphant and Goggins take these richly-colored characters and run with them. It makes Justified one of the most richly rewarding shows on television. The characters that fill in around the two leads only enhance the show and no doubt made Leonard proud that someone finally got it right for once.