‘Justified: City Primeval’ Review: Timothy Olyphant Reclaims the Stetson Hat for Triumphant Elmore Leonard Adaptation

The FX follow-up finds Marshal Raylan Givens in Detroit, where a maniac is sowing chaos and the rules of engagement are as wild as the West ever was

Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens in "Justified: City Primeval." (Chuck Hodes/FX)

The new FX limited series “Justified: City Primeval” is a fish-out-of-water story featuring a long, lanky fish in a Stetson hat. His name is Raylan Givens, and you might know him from “Justified,” the FX crime series that made itself at home in the hollers of Kentucky among white supremacists and other Southern miscreants from 2010 to 2015. Played by Timothy Olyphant with a smooth gait and seen-it-all demeanor, Deputy U.S. Marshal Givens, created by the unmatchable crime fiction writer Elmore Leonard, now finds himself in Detroit, where a maniac is sowing chaos, a dirty judge has been murdered and the rules of engagement are as wild as the West ever was.

But if Raylan is new to the criminal ways of Motor City, Leonard, who died in 2013, most certainly wasn’t. This was his home, and the setting for much of his most memorable work. He knew the crooks and the crooked cops, the dive bars that open early and cater to dangerous secrets. This is the world of “City Primeval,” and it shimmers like the hot gun at the center of the story, used to murder that judge (Keith David, we hardly knew you) in the very first episode.

This new round of ‘Justified,” premiering Tuesday, July 18, is based on the 1980 Leonard novel “City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit.” The book is chock full of Leonard staples, including storylines that bounce off each other like last-call drunks and then neatly intersect; and hoods more colorful than their pursuers could ever hope to be. What the book doesn’t have is Raylan Givens. The series creators, including original “Justified” veterans Dave Andron and Michael Dinner, have parachuted the marshal into this new venture; the focal point of the novel, a police detective named Raymond Cruz, is relegated to secondary status and played by Paul Calderon.

Too bad for Raymond, a great character in his own right, but no skin off the series’ nose. A little older, a little thinner, a little grayer, Olyphant slides back into this role like he was putting on an old pair of boots.

Boyd Holbrook as Clement Mansell and Aunjanue Ellis as Carolyn Wilder in “Justified: City Primeval.” (Chuck Hodes/FX)

His adversary is one Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook), a frosty Oklahoma psycho with roots in Detroit’s underworld and a thing for The White Stripes (this is, after all, Detroit). Soft-spoken and sadistic, he’s a slippery, implacable menace who knows all the legal angles — a spiritual cousin of Max Cady, the relentless stalker played by Robert Mitchum in the original “Cape Fear” (not to be confused with the over-the-top model played by Robert De Niro in the 1991 remake). Mansell has a crafty defense attorney (Aunjanue Ellis) and an old partner in crime (Vondie Curtis-Hall), both of whom are too terrified of their associate to make a move against him. He also has that judge’s little black book, littered with dirt on cops, robbers and all manner of city officials, all of whom he intends to bleed dry. His other scam du jour has his girlfriend (Adelaide Clemens), who moonlights at a local casino, reeling in a wealthy mark (Alexander Pobutsky). This proves complicated, as the mark is well connected in the Albanian mob.

This may be Raylan’s world, but it’s Leonard’s universe. Rip-offs beget rip-offs and the cops are about as trustworthy as the criminals. The atmosphere is as thick as the darkness in the bar owned by Sweetie, the old-school crook played by Curtis-Hall with searing pathos. And the dialogue would make Raymond Chandler cackle.

A mother makes pot roast for her hoodlum son and asks why he tried (and failed) to kill the judge. “He dishonored our family,” the son blurts. “He dishonored what?” Mom replies. “What is this, feudal Japan?” Then the cops show up. She has set up her own kid. Later, as Raylan and his new big-city partner (Victor Williams) tail Clement’s girl, the partner poses a question: “Think she’s in over her head, or where she wants to be?” Raylan: “Maybe in over her head is where she wants to be.” She later all but confirms this suspicion, when Raylan asks her why she stays with the psycho. “He’s fun,” she replies.

So is “City Primeval.” Its eight episodes don’t drag or sag, and the skin graft procedure of attaching Raylan to a story that was just fine without him goes off without a hitch. The series even finds room for a little tenderness. It turns out that Raylan and Carolyn, the lawyer played by Ellis, get along pretty well outside the courtroom. Then there’s Raylan’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Willa, played by Olyphant’s real-life offspring Vivian. At the end of the day, Raylan just wants to spend time with his kid, maybe paint his house back in Florida or go fishing.

But crime never sleeps, especially not for an urban cowboy with a gun, a badge and a nose for trouble.

“Justified: City Primeval” premieres Tuesday, July 18, on FX, and is available the next day on Hulu.