Review by C.J. Bunce
If I updated my favorite characters list, I’m not sure yet whether two of the stars of the television series Longmire would make my top five, but I am sure they’d give my top 10 a run for their money. Those two stars would be Robert Taylor′s cool, dry, and wise Sheriff Walt Longmire and his best friend, Lou Diamond Phillips′ loyal, clever, and heroic Cheyenne bar owner Henry Standing Bear. I don’t know how I overlooked Longmire in its run between 2012 and 2017, but I’m grateful, because watching it an episode per day during sheltering at home helped get me through those 150 days. This is great drama, exciting, often humorous, and as good a modern Western as you could hope for. It’s airing right now on Netflix.
It takes only the first episode to realize what the show is about. Headlining a Western “Law & Order,” Sheriff Longmire is Gary Cooper in High Noon, but he’s also Old Man Logan in a small town in modern day Montana. The series starts just as the sheriff gets back in the saddle–re-engages actively as Absaroka County’s law enforcer–after the death of his wife. Viewers don’t immediately learn about the nature of her death, but it becomes integral to the plot, to the villainy of the town, and to the fate of the sheriff.
All six seasons are a pleasure to watch, with a core cast of brilliant performers that show some serious acting chops. Katee Sackhoff is Deputy Vic. No matter what you’ve seen Sackhoff do before, whether as the best part of Battlestar Galactica, Bionic Woman, The Flash, or the Halloween franchise, she shines brightest as a badass, ex-Philadelphia cop running away from her past (the idea she’s stepping out of this Western and into The Mandalorian couldn’t be more thrilling of an idea). A Martinez (LA Law, The Cowboys) is Jacob Nighthorse, a big voice among the local Cheyenne reservation and top man at the new casino, and the frequent target of Longmire’s wrath. Peter Weller (RoboCop, Star Trek Into Darkness) directs five of the best episodes and plays Lucian, an even older, former sheriff, who drifts in from time to time to assist Longmire. This is Weller’s best performance–he oozes Western charm and character like honey. Among the familiar faces is Gerald McRaney (Simon & Simon, Gunsmoke) as Barlow Connally, a scheming, wealthy businessman whose influence crosses the boundaries of the town and reservation.
Zahn McClarnon (Westworld, Fargo) is stunning as Officer Mathias, and you’ll wish every new series featured his gravitas and his character’s attitude and style. Rounding out the cast is Cassidy Freeman (Smallville, The Vampire Diaries) as Longmire’s daughter, Adam Bartley (Bones, Annabelle: Creation) as The Ferg, the low man on the totem pole in the sheriff’s department, and Bailey Chase (Grimm, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as a deputy gunning for Longmire’s job.
Look for appearances by Mary Wiseman (Baskets, Star Trek Discovery) as Ferg’s girlfriend, Tantoo Cardinal (Stumptown, Dances with Wolves) as one of the best badass characters we’ve seen this year, Mädchen Amick (Twin Peaks, Riverdale, Star Trek: The Next Generation) as Henry’s ex, Dylan Walsh (Whiskey Cavalier, Congo) as a mob boss from Boston, Tom Wopat (Dukes of Hazzard) as a nearby sheriff, and the great Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves, Thunderheart) as the former law enforcement chief at the reservation. Just as many less familiar faces stand out through the series and fill out the rest of the cast.
But the pure pleasure is in every scene with Robert Taylor and Lou Diamond Phillips. Taylor, an actor from Australia, has created something on par with the best roles of John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and–again–Gary Cooper. Phillips at times could be a wise Jedi like Obi-Wan Kenobi or a skillful and furtive Scarlet Pimpernel. Don’t mistake marketing images for this duo as another Lone Ranger and Tonto. Longmire may very well be an update to that serial trope of film’s Golden Age, but the writing and execution of the series is how to present a rural, Western, superhero story (yes, it’s really a superhero story) in a truly perfect way.
The series, based on a set of novels by Craig Johnson, originally appeared for its first three seasons on A&E, before Netflix agreed to take it on, continuing for three more seasons. The production values step up for those last three seasons, but the storytelling is consistent throughout. If there is any down step at all, it would be in the direction taken in the final episode. It’s satisfying, but somewhat inconsistent with the direction of characters throughout the series.
Great characters, top-notch performances, solid writing, a comfortable soundtrack, and a beautiful setting make for one of the best television series you’ll ever encounter. And it’s a great modern Western to boot. Catch all six seasons of Longmire this summer on Netflix, also streaming on Vudu, and here on DVD and here on digital at Amazon.