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Monday, March 2, 2015


The slickly-made, intricately-plotted "prairie noir" that is LONGMIRE: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON--a 2-disc, 10-episode DVD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment--blends elements of the classic Western with the present-day police procedural and infuses it all with gripping serial drama.

During its first two seasons on A&E, "Longmire" introduced us to goodhearted but crusty Sheriff Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) of Absaroka County, Wyoming, a setting under whose vast blue skies lurks crime and corruption that threaten both the townspeople and the Native American population of the local Cheyenne reservation. (Strangely enough, the show reminds me of another in which a lone lawman is in charge of a vast rural area where everyone knows everyone else's business--the Irish cop thriller "Single-Handed.")

Based on the literary character by author Craig Johnson, Longmire is the quintessential Western lawman--a solid, no-nonsense man of few words with a strict moral code. Underlying all of this is the lasting pain of his wife's unsolved murder, which fuels much of his fervor to bring certain individuals to justice.

Longmire's main deputies are Victoria "Vic" Moretti (Katee Sackhoff, "Starbuck" of Battlestar: Galactica), a tough former Philadelphia homicide detective, and Branch Connally (Bailey Chase, "Saving Grace"), son of a wealthy businessman played by Gerald McRaney ("Simon and Simon", "Major Dad"). Also helping out are pudgy junior deputy "Ferg" (Adam Bartley) and maternal secretary Ruby (Louanne Stephens).

For new viewers such as myself, the first episode "The White Warrior" begins season three in the middle of various ongoing plotlines that aren't too hard to pick up on after awhile. Branch is found badly wounded and insists--in a peyote-induced stupor--to have been shot by a tribal mystic named David Ridges (David Midthunder, who played Famous Shoes in "Comanche Moon") who's thought to be dead.

Longmire's best friend, Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) is wrongly jailed for murder and is being beaten daily by the Native American inmates under the direction of Longmire's nemesis, Malachi Strand (Graham Greene, THE GREEN MILE), the corrupt former head of tribal police on "the rez" and a suspect in the death of Longmire's wife.

In subsequent episodes, the season-long story arc will be interlaced with stand-alone detective stories that are generally wrapped up by the fadeout. "Of Children and Travelers", for example, deals with a runaway Russian teen who may have been either abandoned or abused by her American foster parents. When her body is found under a bridge, Longmire must track down the killer while uncovering disturbing details about the girl's turbulent past.

"Miss Cheyenne" has Walt helping to judge a beauty pageant on the reservation during which a gruesome murder is committed. Meanwhile, his strong-willed daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman) takes over as Henry's counsel when the court-appointed attorney turns out to be grossly inept.

"In the Pines" is about the murder of a guide for teen campers during a field trip, while also depicting Branch's growing paranoia and possible psychosis during his singleminded quest to find the supposedly-dead Indian mystic he claims to have tried to kill him. His increasingly irrational behavior will finally turn violent in later episodes as his character goes completely off the rails.

One of the best episodes, "Wanted Man", features one of my favorite actors these days, Peter Weller--whose heavyweight performance helped elevate J.J. Abrams' STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS--as a crotchety former sheriff Longmire presses into service to help search for his wife's killer. Another outstanding and grippingly suspenseful story is "Population 25", with guest star Peter Stormare (FARGO) as the head of an "end of days" survivalist cult who kidnaps Vic and her husband, suspected of spying on them for Walt, and submits them to a grueling interrogation as a prelude to execution.

The final two episodes in the set, "Counting Coup" and "Ashes to Ashes", bring the season's story arc to an exciting and extremely satisfying conclusion even as certain major threads are left dangling for season four. As before, the action is consistently well-paced--not too hyper, not too slow--with lean but stylish direction and camerawork. The emotional interplay between the characters is subtle and deftly handled. A sometimes somber mood is alleviated by occasional flashes of wry humor while the emphasis is on a tactile, lived-in realism.

Robert Taylor, known by me mainly as "Agent Jones" in THE MATRIX and also from the horror film STORM WARNING, does a pitch-perfect job as modern Western archetype Walt Longmire. As his deputy Vic Moretti, Katee Sackhoff is equally outstanding as well as terrific-looking in uniform. Bailey Chase portrays Deputy Branch Connally's gradual descent into manic obsession with unsettling intensity.

Lou Diamond Phillips (YOUNG GUNS) as Henry and A Martinez (THE COWBOYS) as an unscrupulous associate of Malachi Strand have both aged very well as actors. As for Graham Greene, the role of Strand is one of the best of his career. Charles Dutton (ALIEN 3) and Mädchen Amick ("Twin Peaks") also appear to good effect.

The 2-disc DVD set from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is in matted widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. The sole extra is a 30-minute documentary, "Longmire: The Ghost in the Storm", in which cast and crew discuss the show and characters in depth.

The ten episodes in the set are as follows:

The White Warrior
Of Children and Travelers
Miss Cheyenne
In the Pines
Wanted Man
Reports of My Death
Population 25
Counting Coup
Ashes to Ashes

Cancelled by A&E after three seasons, "Longmire" has been picked up for a fourth by Netflix. I'm glad, because after watching LONGMIRE: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, I've started to enjoy hanging out with these exciting, unpredictable characters and seeing what they'll do next.

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