TV Review: Hap and Leonard
PLOT: Hap (James Purefoy) and Leonard (Michael K. Williams) are two ass-kicking best pals living in East Texas during the mid-to-late eighties. Let go from the latest in a string of menial jobs, the two are easily recruited by Hap’s ex-wife, Trudy (Christina Hendricks), in a search for some missing cash – only to find the job go awry right from the start.
REVIEW: I assume that by now most of our readers have seen Jim Mickle’s adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale's COLD IN JULY. A southern-noir, hardcore action hybrid, Mickle proved himself to be the ideal person to bring Lansdale's world to the big screen. Now he’s back with the author's two most enduring creations, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine.
The protagonists of an ongoing series of novels, the men are a study in contrasts united by their undying loyalty to each other - a kind of southern Riggs and Murtagh. Hap is a white former anti-war activist with an eye for the ladies while Leonard is a black Vietnam vet who just-so happens to be gay. Lifelong best friends, they toil day-in, day-out at low-paying jobs that don’t have much of a future, something that worries the two as they approach middle-age.
While the posh, English thesp James Purefoy might not seem a likely choice to play a good ol’boy like Hap (who’s probably more of a Walton Goggins-type), Purefoy seems to be having the time of his life in the role. He gives the luckless-in-love Hap a real romantic edge, making his devotion to his duplicitous ex-wife all the more believable (not that it would take much convincing to think Hendricks could get under a man’s skin), while also conveying a believable, laid-back southern vibe. He’s oddly perfect despite being cast so hugely against type.
As Leonard, Michael K. Williams is absolutely pitch-perfect. After years of playing heavies like Omar Little and Chalky White, it’s nice to see Williams slip into the skin of a more heroic character. While the two men tend to work a little outside of the law, both are well-meaning, even noble guys. Being set in the somewhat less liberal eighties, Mickle and co-writer Nick Damici get lots of mileage out of Leonard being both black and gay, with people either acting appallingly racist towards him or trying to over-compensate (the first thing a white guy says upon meeting Leonard is that he loved Martin Luther King). The rampant homophobia of the time means Leonard has it even worse, but Williams plays him as such a bad-ass no one would dare make any kind of comment, with him unleashing lightning-quick martial arts on some homophobic crack-dealers that make the mistake of getting in his face. The only one he tolerates any type of disdain from is his homophobic uncle, although Hap, always having his friend’s back, threatens the old man with a beating if he doesn’t ease up.
A show like this lives or dies by the chemistry of the two leads and Purefoy and Williams are ideally matched. Watching them together, their affection and low-key friendship is never anything less than convincing. While the six-part series gets off to a quiet start – once the bodies start piling up it’s going to be fun to watch these guys kick-ass together. An early scene showing them sparring and doing some target practice suggests the two are more than capable of dealing with any trouble that comes their way. As far as antagonists go, it looks like Hap and Leonard’s big bad is going to be Jimmi Simpson’s Soldier, who – along with his psychotic lover Angel (FILTH’s Pollyanna McIntosh) we only meet in the first episode’s violent conclusion.
One of the best things about Hap and Leonard as a series is that Mickle’s on-board to direct all six episodes of the first season, giving this a continuity that should make it feel more like long movie than a TV show. The show is certainly feature-caliber, with great acting by the leads, and Mickle’s COLD IN JULY cinematographer, Ryan Samul, and composer, Jeff Grace, both on-board for the whole season. In this way, Hap and Leonard really feels like a kind-of sequel to that film and if it continues, maybe Mickle will be able to entice COLD IN JULY’s Jim-Bob, Don Johnson, to recreate his part as the character appears in some of the novels.
A lot of folks complain about the absence of smaller-scaled, gritty action in the cinemas. For those people, Hap and Leonard is a dream come-true. It’s off to a really promising start and if the rest of the season is as good as the first episode, we may be seeing the birth of two new small-screen icons. I can’t wait for episode two.
|Extra Tidbit:||Hap and Leonard premieres on Sundance TV tonight @10 ET|