Warning: Major Justified spoilers lie ahead!
We're in the fifth season of Justified, and this is possibly the darkest that we've seen Raylan Givens descend. The most recent episode saw him get slugged by Art Mullen, his own Chief Marshal, for his implicitness in the death of Nicky Augustine (Mike O'Malley). He's really been walking the line of lawlessness and hiding behind his shield. On top of that, he's been a terrible father to his recently born daughter, not even going to visit her in person, instead relying on video chat with his ex-wife Winona to see the baby on camera.
It's a terribly complicated situation (of course, "complicated" is the word that people often use to describe him), made worse by the fact that Raylan seems to also live by a code of drawing a gun first and asking questions later. I think that's what we call a dichotomy, folks.
The problem is that Givens has authority issues that stem from the fact that his own father, the late and unlamented Arlo Givens (Raymond J. Barry), was a real rat bastard. He was a conniving man who would have probably sold his own son into slavery if he could have. Now, the only anchor of any kind for Givens is Mullen, who is this close to retiring. In TV or movieland, mention of retirement from the field of law enforcement is pretty much foreshadowing for possible impending and grisly death. If Mullen were to die, Givens, who is not the most tethered man to begin with, might just completely become unmoored. Add the fact that Givens has been thinking about dying in Harlan for a long time... think way back to the second season when he was at his stepmother Helen's funeral and he saw his own gravestone on the family plot of land. He's seemingly resigned to the fact that he'll "never leave Harlan alive."
The whole abuse of authority is really coming a head this season. Raylan was in a showdown with Hot Rod Dunham (Mickey Jones), a Dixie Mafia head and he said that he'd shoot him and his cronies... and then to cement his threat, he held up his Marshals Star and said, "This will make it all legal." The deputy marshal has been making his own rules for a very long time, from the first day that we met him in Miami in the first episode of the first season. Remember that? He sat across from Tommy Bucks, a drug cartel runner and a man whom Givens had given 24 hours to vacate the city, in an outdoor cafe. Obviously, Bucks had chosen to ignore that edict (and Givens made him pay... mortally) right then and there in the cafe. The Marshals office has given him as much leeway as possible, but how much rope can the man get around his neck before he actually starts gagging and choking?
Raylan hasn't been lucky at all in the love department, having seen his wife leave him not once but twice. She also called him "the angriest man I've ever seen." Add this to the fact that Ava Crowder is now engaged to his frenemy Boyd, and that another potential romantic partnerwound up being a grifter who stole a lot of his money. Now, Raylan is in a somewhat shaky relationship with a social worker named Alison Brander (Amy Smart), who has a penchant for pot and could be another case of trouble for Givens. The funny thing is that Brander is the one who summed up Givens quite well:
"You're the bravest person I know. You'd go running into a burning building to save someone. I also think you're the one setting the building on fire."
We're waiting to see how right she is.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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