Congratulations to our friend Craig Johnson. Longmire, the show based on his Walt Longmire novels, was renewed for a second season after four episodes of the first one. Here’s Craig at the Longmire Season One wrap party celebrating with stars Robert Taylor and Lou Diamond Phillips. Somebody should tell Mr. Phillips he doesn’t know where that writer’s been.
SPOILER ALERT: This post doesn’t give away TOO much, however it does go into specific detail about scenes, characters and plot in the pilot episode. If you’d rather see it all for yourself, we advise you avert your eyes now and come back to read it after you’ve watched the show!
I’m not only a fan of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series, I’m a good friend of the author’s, too. I’ve talked to him at length about the books concerning his put upon Wyoming sheriff and hung out with a number of people who the characters are based on. So it was with both excitement and trepidation that I watched the pilot episode of Longmire, the A&E TV series based on Craig’s books, which airs this Sunday, June 3rd, 10/9c.
Australian actor Robert Taylor may not be as thick in the middle as the Absoroka County lawman we read about, but he captures both his awkwardness and strength. He moves in a ragged lope and carries himself with a deliberate ease. Playing a widower who lost his wife a year ago, he delivers a subtle and effective performance of a man in mourning for so long, he doesn’t know how to function without grief. He also has a bad ass western accent that gives Sam Elliot a run for his money.
Katee Sackoff nails Philadelphia transplant Deputy Vic Moretti with a sarcastic bounce and lupine smile. While standards and practices won’t allow the mouth readers know from the books, anytime there is a swear word the script can get away with she says it. She balances Vic’s attitude and the genuine concern she has for Walt, lending to great chemistry between the two. A scene where she takes on three guys when one decks Walt shows how she feels about him, as does Walt having to pull her off of them.
I’m looking forward to seeing more of Henry Standing Bear, played by Lou Diamond Phillips in the series. Phillips is able to give him a good deal of charm as well as displaying his sense of purpose. He also delivers the non-contraction way that Henry speaks with a natural flow.
It’s the relationship between Walt and Henry that is a big difference in the book. Both are about ten years younger. Since this makes them old enough to deal with aging, it should be of little impact, other than having Vietnam as a shared experience. Some scars on Walt’s back suggest that that he has seen combat. There is more tension in their relationship, first established when Walt drives past Henry in town and doesn’t acknowledge him and later when he jumps to a conclusion in the investigation (the only time he does) about the Cheyenne being involved. Taylor and Phillips make us believe that the friendship of thirty-seven years means more than whatever grudge one is carrying. It’s one of the things I’m looking forward to seeing play out in the season.
The other major change is the addition of Deputy Branch Connally. Branch (It’s assumed he’s a younger relation of Walt’s cantankerous predecessor Lucien Connally) is running against him for sheriff. The casting of Bailey Chase, with his youthful, chiseled looks and a smart-ass smile anybody over forty would want to knock off his face, makes him a perfect foil for Walt. What makes the punk even more annoying is that he’s right just enough times. One of the episode’s best scenes is a stand off between the two that Walt wins with the help of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Writers Hunt Baldwin and John Covney use a few ideas from Cold Dish and create a short mystery that you could picture Craig Johnson writing. There is a humorous beginning with a unique victim that leads to something more sinister. The script captures the ranchers, entrepreneurs, Indians, and fringe characters with both respect and humor. They even take some lines from the books, like when Walt surveys the vast crime scene and Vic asks what he’s doing. He replies “Thinking. I sometimes do that before I talk.”
Wouldn’t it be great if that caught on.
Christopher Chulack’s direction sets a perfect tone for the show to follow. He’s not afraid to use a wide shot on TV and more importantly embraces silences. The opening scene, reminiscent of the Paul Newman PI film Harper, shows Walt getting ready for the day with the only dialogue being Vic leaving messages on the answering machine. Relying completely on composition and Taylor’s physicality it tells us everything we need to know about our wounded hero. There is a close-up shot of Walt wiping his boots off before he walks into the house for a death notification that gave me chills. The show uses the visual elements of film to approach something literary. If you don’t believe me, watch how the scene ends on those boots.
Longmire promises to deliver something so classic, it is now practically unique. Because it is about a hero in a cowboy hat, it’s drawn comparisons to Justified. Longmire is more easy going and character driven. The violence doesn’t hang in the air like it does in Raylan Given’s world and Walt has already made the mistake that younger, angrier lawman still makes. While Justified hints at western themes, Longmire looks at the real thing. If anything the show is reminiscent of shows like Hill Street Blues, giving us characters we will get to know better over a period of time, yet we already care about. Much like a good book.
It’s been great to watch the news roll in about our buddy Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire books being turned into a new show for A&E. They just released the trailer, take a look:
Craig’s one of our all time favorite authors. We love his books, and we love having him at the store. If you can make it down, you won’t be disappointed. An event with Craig is always a good time.