Longmire – the cinematic success of detective and western genres

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Australian actor Robert Taylor carries this television drama series with the pragmatism of his leading character, Walt Longmire. Viewing each episode is like watching a classic western: big skies, wide expanses of landscape and sparse, utilitarian dialogue. Indeed, Longmire is described as both ‘the embodiment and a metaphor for the wild west’ by Nancy De Wolf Smith.

Unlike many police procedurals, each episode reveals a tight narrative structure. Longmire opens with action, and unobtrusive production details (actors, producers, directors) before the series title appears to signal the first commercial break.

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 11.44.32 am As the action unfolds, we become alert to the demons carried by Walt – one of many subplots that keep viewers intrigued. Once the climax is reached, an episode promptly ends without the usual return-to-normality-cup-of-coffee-and-chat-between-characters-to-finalise-loose-ends. This respect for viewing intelligence certainly encourages audience loyalty.

In the classroom, a discrete episode may be helpful in reminding students of the importance of a tight narrative arc; the content is suitable for seniors or a mature cohort. The opening episode of series 2, ‘Unquiet Mind’certainly fulfils the classic linear narrative structure of a short story:

  • opens with action – close up of radio dial being turned
  • complication – Longmire chooses to follow criminal in a blizzard
  • climax – antagonist caught and finally subdued after a fist fight

The official website has a series of photographs (with accompanying storyline) for each episode, making it possible to consider the narrative without viewing. For ‘Unquiet Mind, the storyboard focuses on Walt Longmire and two supporting characters – Henry and Branch – which eliminates the need to cover the backstory or subplots for students. Indeed, there a several images used after the climax to reinforce the sheriff’s stoicism and fortitude (six from a total of 18).

The series is based on the novels of Craig Johnson. The Cold Dish was published in 2004, with the latest release of Any Other Name in 2014, and a short story anthology Wait for Signs. 

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2 responses to “Longmire – the cinematic success of detective and western genres

  1. I will have to chase up the series. I was in the U.S when the series first started and quite liked the feel of how the suspense was built up in the few episodes I saw. I will have to check out the rest of the series. I do love the idea of using this in the classroom.

    On a side note, I met Taylor many years ago when he was a struggling actor in the late 80’s, staying in Sydney, and my late mum used to feed him lunch A LOT, when she worked in Newtown. He was really tall, at least that’s what I remember, and he would let me stand on his feet as I admired his height. Good to see some Aussie talent on TV.

    I do adore murder mysteries, and I do not read enough contemporary fiction in the genre.

  2. Yes, he is tall which adds to the character’s presence. I remember him from The Matrix – when he takes off his hat (which is seldom), I would wait for the sunglasses to appear and shape-shifting to begin …
    I think it might also be a useful way to encourage some of my senior boys to read more, although I’m not familiar with the books.
    I am eagerly awaiting the release of series 3 in March.

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