As you’re probably aware by now, Timothy Olyphant appeared in The Mandalorian‘s recent Chapter 9 episode (fittingly titled as “The Marshal”). In doing so, he nearly overshadowed a huge nerd development: the surprise resurrection of Boba Fett. A lot has happened in our world since that episode aired, but there’s never a bad time to circle back to Olyphant’s many onscreen rodeos as a lawman. He’s certainly doing nothing to deter his reputation as a charismatic wearer of badges, given that the new Fargo season sees him doing his swaggery routine as well.
Olyphant is undeniably attracted to these roles, even though his career actually boasts a decent amount of variety. Back in the day, he danced on the other side of the law in Go; he did the romantic-lead thing in Catch and Release; and he menacingly cackled while stoking murder-vibes in A Perfect Getaway. He was also fan-freaking-tastic as a husband who adores his zombie wife in Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet. Still, he can’t stop gripping that gun in the holster while strutting through America and the galaxy at large.
So, it’s time to revisit Olyphant’s Top Five lawman joints; these aren’t only ones, but they’re the best. For an example of a not-so-great entry, one need only go back to the unremarkable, Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000). This was a rare occasion where he played a completely generic cop. Granted, the character wasn’t drawn well, but Olyphant has trashed his own “mediocre” performance in the film. He was disappointed in his lack of effort, and we can at least thank that Nic Cage movie for doing one thing: inspiring Olyphant to do better (I reckon he did).
5. The Crazies (2010)
This horror remake accomplished much more, thematically, than the original George Romero flick. Yet given its heavy-genre leanings, it didn’t attract a huge audience, although critics mostly dug it. This also isn’t technically a zombie film, though a lot of the motifs that run through those movies remain the same. There’s a biohazard afoot that transforms people into irrational and nearly unstoppable killers, and Olyphant’s sheriff finds himself navigating the early stages of the outbreak while sh*t gets real with the military as martial law descends. Granted, it’s a scary watch, but it bypasses the usual horror tropes and manages to be somewhat cerebral. And of course, there’s a leading turn by a guy who’d go on to star in a comedic zombie series on Netflix.
Olyphant’s convincing as a small-town cop, and the project arrived at an interesting point in his career: a few years after Deadwood ended as an HBO TV series but right before Justified launched on FX. I certainly would advise anyone who’s an Olyphant-lawman completist to put this film on their list, but it’s not as wonderful as his other badge-filled turns for a few reasons: (1) This is not the typical Olyphant lawman who’s confidently equipped to deal with every situation, so he’s not as satisfying to witness if you’re looking for his usual mythical bent; (2) Olyphant does not wear a hat here, and I’m not sorry to say that, yes, that matters!
4. Fargo (2020)
This is where things get tricky, fast, because it feels somewhat criminal to rank five wonderful Olyphant performances that are all worthy of appreciation. How lucky are we, really, to have this guy embracing various incarnations of the way that he knows people love to see him most? He’s a charming rascal, and he knows it. Let’s be honest, I’d even watch him don sheriff-y attire and simply make oatmeal in a slow cooker (something that he actually does in real life, probably in plainclothes) for a full season. An Olyphant foodie hour, as long he wears a hat, would be my pandemic-viewing jam, so there’s a nice idea for HBO Max’s World of Calm Season 2. With that said, Olyphant’s Fargo appearance doesn’t reel me in quite as much as I hoped that it would.
Don’t get me wrong. I love where Deafy got his nickname and the whole kicking-in-the-door move and even the endearing carrot-stick offering, but this recurring role doesn’t allow the Olyphant quality to shine. He’s part of an ensemble of stellar actors playing kooky roles with weird-ass names, and against that jumbled backdrop, his Stetson-wearing presence doesn’t resonate with its usual gravity. To me, Fargo Season 4 is where the understated performances — like that of Chris Rock as a crime boss — are the ones that stand out. Having Olyphant around is a fine bonus, of course.
3. The Mandalorian (2020)
Now we’re cooking. What an absolute treat “The Marshal” episode turned out to be on Disney+. Will we see Cobb Vanth again? There’s no telling, and I never anticipated seeing Olyphant doing a Star Wars gig, but here he is, nerding out and looking cool at the same time. Not even that restrictive armor could keep his personality and sardonic wit from shining through. Furthermore, it’s the second half of a one-two punch on the Olyphantastic front (in 2020) for those who love to see this guy in his trademark mode. And he did so in a role that tweaked Star Wars canon and helped to put Boba Fett back in the equation. Who would have thought that was possible? Furthermore, Jon Favreau knew who to call when he needed a marshal-type.
Sure, Cobb (as portrayed by Olyphant) is a bit of a cocky a-hole by Star Wars standards, but boy, is he likeable. And it was a blast to watch him do his part while defeating a Krayt Dragon in a truly thrilling action scene that felt Dune-esque (for the Sarlaac-turned-sandworm factor). For a moment, I even forgot all about Pedro Pascal over there, underneath his Mando armor. It’s a good thing that Cobb’s probably out of the occasion now, so they don’t have to rename The Mandalorian as The Space Raylan Show.
2. Deadwood (2004-2016 and 2019)
C*cksuckers, unite for this one. David Milch’s masterfully profane HBO western still holds up, throughout the three TV seasons (that managed to include a fine episode about… kidney stones? yes) and one reunion movie full of Shakespearean dialogue and catching up with beloved figures. It’s a testament to Olyphant’s own indispensable performance (and his confidence in the role) that he was sure glad that he wasn’t the “a-hole” to turn down a return to the magic. So, we got a revisiting of the breakout part that make him well-known for wearing a hat on the wild frontier.
From the first-season episode of Seth Bullock falling to his knees while witnessing the death of Wild Bill Hickok to Bullock’s balance of contempt-respect for his frenemy, Al Swearengen, Olyphant excelled at the upholding of honor and the settling of scores. The particular gathering of ensemble personalities here, as well, did not distract from Bullock as the central beacon of the show. As Deadwood’s appointed sheriff (who thought he’d left those days behind), Bullock frequently seethed with thinly-cloaked rage after picking up the badge again. That’s quite unlike Olyphant, who almost seems addicted to law enforcement roles, and even in 2020, he’s sure enjoying taking those rides.
1. Justified (2010-2015, Eternity)
Raylan Givens: the role that Timothy Olyphant was born to play. Elmore Leonard, who created the character, raved about how the show’s spin on his stories (and the leading man) blew him away. That Stetson hat, too, got tweaked as an Olyphant entry, upgraded from a “Dallas Businessman’s Special” in Leonard’s prose. And the headgear of the TV show turned out to be instrumental: you could always tell when Raylan went undercover because he’d go hatless. It was funny and fitting and fed into the mythical character who left a corrupt dentist (from the “Long In The Tooth” bottle-ish episode) gasping to see his hero-nemesis coming to arrest him.
Olyphant infused Raylan with all the swagger that was fit to bloody the nose of Appalachia. It’s telling, too, how Raylan’s extralegal ways (and fried-chicken-temptation antics) managed to age well, even in a time when many are circling back to point fingers at cop shows. Yet Raylan never wielded his power against anyone who didn’t have it coming. Basically, he took down Nazis and those who refused to pick on people their own size. And even though he felt compelled to honor his dynamic with Boyd Crowder by paying the guy an in-person visit in the series finale, Raylan’s moral code never strayed from what was inherently good. Don’t tell him that, though. Like Olyphant, Raylan’s chaos-filled manner of self-deprecation remains the stuff of legends.