Deadwood: The Movie Review
Chances are there won’t be any petitions being made by furious fans demanding HBO remake this long awaited conclusion to one of modern day TV’s best series. And possibly one of the best westerns to ever grace a screen of any size. It’s taken 13 years, countless rumours and failed attempts to finally to reach this point, but David Milch offers some closure for fans left hanging back in 2006. There’s little doubt Deadwood would’ve benefited from a full season to wrap things up, and Milch perhaps regrets turning down the six episodes offered by HBO some years back, but he makes up for lost time in this one-off TV movie.
What this return to the south Dakotan town really equates to is the merging of two 50 minute episodes into one. The faces of the cast may have widened, their hair greyer and age lines more pronounced, but it looks and sounds much the same as it ever did. Milch’s penchant for writing elegant, poetical dialogue, pop-marked with crude and totally appropriate swearing is as delightful as ever. And in doing so it manages to deliver the sort of ending loyal fans had long hoped for.
The TV show was often accused of being too slow and ponderous, which is probably the reason it was eventually axed. While time is not a luxury neither Milch nor director Billy Mikelson (overseeing his first full length effort of any kind) have been afforded, and there are lots of loose ends that needed closure, it remains true to the essence of the 36 episodes that came before. Of course, the audience have to fill in the narrative gaps left from then until now, and that is felt in a script that constantly refers back to the past and the ghosts still waiting be to exorcised.
Bar those who passed away in the intervening years (most notably Powers Boothe), almost everyone is back in town to mark the entrance of South Dakota into the union as the 40th state. Not only is there now a train station running through Deadwood, but the erection of telephone poles are set to revolutionise communication everywhere. Getting off the train is Alma Garret (Molly Parker) with her now grown-up daughter in tow, greeted by the distinctly greyer Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie). Of course, Senator George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) is back to lord it over the locals, which means it’s only a matter of time before he bumps heads with Marshal Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) and saloonkeeper Al Swearengen (Ian McShane).
The strength of the TV show lay in the rich realisation of the characters rather than the plotting, which was guilty of being too perfunctory at times. It’s a trait that remains just as true now, seen when Sol Star’s (John Hawkes) pregnant wife-to-be Trixie (Paula Malcomson) delivers a foul-mouthed tirade towards Hearst. Still, it gets the ball rolling to dredge up unresolved conflicts, heal old wounds and lay out future paths for the residents to embark upon.
Fans of the show should be able to make the time jump (a decade in Deadwood’s world) but brief flashbacks to incidents that occurred during the TV show may help bridge the gap for newcomers. The evolution of the town has continued while the cameras have been away, with some characters now in new, or wealthier positions and the housing generally sturdier for most. Well, bar Franklyn Ajaye’s Samuel Fields, one of only two black people in the town and still homeless, but who plays an important role in the development of Milch’s story.
An intoxicated Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert) opens the film slurring her way through the dusky, winding hills toward the town on horseback. Her relationship with Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens) is one of many strands to be resolved, and while the women of Deadwood appear to have more agency this time round, perhaps not enough attention is paid to the love triangle involving Seth, his wife Martha (Anna Gunn) and Alma. The wife and Seth's one-time lover are seen but barely present. However, Trixie is more prominent and Malcomson’s confidence in her character is one of the stand out features of the film.
Deadwood always worked best as a microcosm of the American experiment, bringing together a disparate band of hopeful and lawless individuals who eventually found a way to cobble together a community and a plan for the future. Now, a decade later, and the country as we know it today is slowly starting to take shape. Time has moved on and those - like Swearengen - are no longer the force they once were (although McShane’s performance still is) and they have been replaced by leaders with a wider web of influence. It’s a story for the ages and one that finally gets the fitting ending it deserves.
Deadwood: The Movie is available now to watch via Sky On Demand