Deadwood: The Movie (2019) Review
WELCOME THE F**K BACK!
Back in 2004, HBO released the show Deadwood, a western television series that mixed true and fiction within its 1870 location of Deadwood, South Dakota. Created by David Milch, the show, which starred Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane, centered around real-life historical figures (albeit fictionalized to a degree) of Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen and how various characters interact with these two as Deadwood’s grows from a small camp settlement to a small-town community. From large ensemble cast, to its wholesome depiction of characters / settings, to some memorable performances, and sharp writing, Deadwood combines historical accuracies (the show taking place before and after the area’s annexation by the Dakota Territory), historical figures (i.e. Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, George Hearst, George Crook, etc.), with fictional television drama that had three seasons (36 episodes) from 2004 to 2006. In addition, Deadwood reached critical acclaim with its viewers as well as with critics, with the show winning 8 Emmy Awards and one Golden Globe. After the release of show’s third season, however, HBO decided not to pick up Deadwood for its inevitable fourth season; leaving the show in a perpetual state of limbo as the network stressed that the show wasn’t cancelled but rather “mulling” over the its future continuation. Now, thirteen years after the end of season three, HBO Films and director Daniel Minahan present the long-awaited continuation of the Deadwood TV show with the film Deadwood: The Movie. Does the film conclude the western television saga properly or is it a little “too little, too late” to care about the various characters of Deadwood?
It’s 1989…ten years have passed and South Dakota is entering statehood, with the various individuals of both past and current residents of Deadwood participating in the celebration. Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) remains the “law and order” of the small community in keeping the peace with the locals in line, while fellow the town’s prominent entertainment entrepreneur figure head of Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) stands upon death’s door; refusing to give in to his ailing body’s condition. The widow Alma Garret Ellsworth (Molly Parker) has returned to the town with her ward Sofia (Lily Keene), while Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert) has returned to make amends with her old flame, Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens), who has taken over the Bella Union gambling hall and bordello following Cy Tolliver’s death. In addition, Bullock’s partner, Sol Star (John Hawkes), and his longtime female companion, Trixie (Paula Malcomson), are about to be proud parents of newborn son. Also attending is George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), now a United State senator, who has returned to Deadwood to make an offer of purchasing land from Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie), with Utter’s land interfering with the installation of telephones in lines in which Hearst has invested in. However, when Charlie refuses Hearst’s offer, the town of Deadwood stands poised to be reignited with dire consequences.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Oh, Deadwood….how much I love thee! I remember seeing a lot of the Deadwood promos and trailers on HBO, but I actually never watched it while it was initial being released during its first run (i.e. 2004-2006). At that time, I was watching all the other HBO shows (i.e. The Sopranos, Entourage, and Rome), but never really had an interest in watching Deadwood. However, a few years later, one of my co-workers was telling me about the show and how much it was really a great show and much I was missing out on not watching it. So, since I was in the mood of watching a new show, I decided to buy Deadwood: The Complete Series on DVD (eventually bought the Blu-ray of it a few years later) and man…my co-worker was right…. I was really missing out on the show. Deadwood, at least in my opinion, is a fantastic show that was sadly cut short. I mean, the show was more character driven rather than plot driver, which made all the various characters of the TV show great and were well-rounded individuals. Plus, it was quite interesting to see a television network (even though HBO is a premium channel network) actually do a historical western TV series rather than a more modern / contemporary one….and to actually do it the right way. Deadwood wasn’t about cowboys and Indians and the whole “Hollywood” iteration of the west, but rather a wholesome tale of people coming together to form a community in South Dakota and seeing all the various “in and outs” of that particular community. In addition, the show really had some terrific dialogue lines in almost every scene that really shows the artistic creativity of series creator David Milch’s talents in how he envisioned Deadwood to be. It’s really a shame that Deadwood such a short-lived television series as the show had plenty of potential to go for several more seasons, with plenty of tales to be told and characters to added and subtracted throughout. Whatever you think about the show, HBO’s Deadwood was some “damn fine” television storytelling.
As to be expected, this brings me back to talking about Deadwood: The Movie, the long awaited and very much highly anticipated continuation of the HBO series. Naturally, as I mentioned above, HBO never really “official” cancelled Deadwood and sort of left the door open for the possibility of returning to the show in the future. Of course, that particular decision was never really answered (for literally more than a decade) before the HBO network and Deadwood creator David Milch finally decided on revisiting Deadwood, but in a two-hour feature film rather than a fourth season. Whatever the reasons for the change of TV to feature length movie, Deadwood was finally gonna be brought back and many fans of the show (including myself) were pretty excited to hear when Deadwood: The Movie was announced in 2018. This was even further realized when it was announced that most (if not all) of the principal cast from the show would reprise their Deadwood characters in the film. After that, I didn’t hear much about the show until I started seeing the various promos and trailers on HBO (mostly around the time of when season 8 of Game of Thrones started to air in April 2019), which definitely got me even more excited. So, now I finally got the chance to see Deadwood: The Movie and….what did I think of it? Well, despite some minor problems, Deadwood: The Movie was great and a fine way to continue / conclude the show. Basically, if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll this film.
Deadwood: The Movie is directed by Daniel Minahan, whose previous directorial include several episodes from a variety of popular TV shows like Game of Thrones, True Blood, House of Cards, and….even Deadwood. Thus, given his wide-range of TV directing (as well as his participating in doing several episodes for the Deadwood TV show), Minahan seems like a very good choice for Deadwood: The Movie’s director. Right from the get-go, Minahan seems to understand to balance (i.e. ebb and flow) a way around Deadwood’s various characters; given each of them plenty of time (be major or minor) to develop and present new storylines threads for the feature. Of course, with ten years passing between the show and this film, Minahan also handles the “reintroduction” of the “Deadwood” world quite well; bringing us (the viewers) quickly up to speed on what has happened in those years as well as recounting a few pivotal moments at the end of the season three via flashbacks. For the most part, Minahan keeps very much the “spirit” of the Deadwood TV show alive within Deadwood: The Movie….bringing a sense of character moments to the proceedings and letting the feature flow correctly within a organic / natural narrative path.
Of course, this brings up the feature’s script, which was penned by Deadwood’s creator / writer David Milch. What’s most apparent about Deadwood: The Movie’s script is in Milch’s craftmanship of the material. What do I mean? Well, the story of the movie is most definitely a way to “wrap up” most of the show’s events that were left somewhat unanswered at the end of season three and drawing a somewhat conclusion to the whole franchise (in some capacity). In that regard, the movie’s script succeeds and feels like a genuine continuation of the TV series rather than a gimmicky “knock off”. Of course, I expected this, especially since Milch worked on the script. In addition, Milch’s script has plenty of the TV show’s fanciful dialogue that I personally loved (and I think that many will agree with that). So, expect a lot of expressive meanings and some creative usage of words within Deadwood: The Movie’s presentation. Of course, with Milch being diagnosed with Alzheimer back in 2015 (at the beginning process of writing the script), it really is a testament / labor of love of much he loved the show and wanted to offer some type of continuation / resolution to the Deadwood series…..and I think that the movie clearly shows that in the film’s story / dialogue. As a side-note, screenwriter Nic Pizzolato aided Milch in finishing up the script.
In terms of presentation, Deadwood: The Movie look just as impressive as the Deadwood TV series. Of course, the setting of the show has always been the small township community of Deadwood and not so much on vast and expansive locales / places. Thus, Deadwood: The Movie feels exactly like the show in that regard; re-introducing us (the viewers) back to the historical town of Deadwood….and it looks just as historically accurate (cinematically speaking) and just as much of a character as the denizens that reside therein. A lot of the reasons why these technical achievements and the feature’s presentation looks quite beautiful and cinematically impressive is due to the fact that many veterans of TV show return to work on the Deadwood: The Movie; lending their experience in order to try and replicate the late 1800s western aesthetic backdrop from the show. In that regard, these individuals, including Jaine Bryant (costume designs), Brent David Mannon (set decorations), David Potts (art direction), and Maria Caso (production designs), do exceptional work for their efforts on this movie; bringing the township community of Deadwood alive after 13 years, with the movie showcasing all the new “in and outs” (as well as innerworkings) of the community….and how much has changed since we last Deadwood at the end of season three. Additionally, Deadwood composers Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek, return to their post in giving a wholesome music score for this movie, which (like everything else in Deadwood: The Movie) makes the viewer feel right at home….as if you were watching the classic HBO series all over again.
The main problem with Deadwood: The Movie is that it feels very much restricted in its storytelling or rather restricted in a motion picture format. What do I mean? Well, the problem with so many movies endeavors for TV series is that it feels sort of rushed and can’t feel tell its story within the timeframe for a feature film. The same can be said with this particular movie. The story of Deadwood: The Movie is pretty good and has a satisfying narrative to tell from start to finish, but story / plot being told feels like it was meant for a whole season (possibly the fourth season of the show) rather than a movie, which clocks in around 110 minutes (i.e. one hour and fifty minutes). Thus, Deadwood: The Movie feels sort of rushed throughout its progression; finding the feature to be very busy in what it wants to say and doesn’t have enough to (for lack of a better term) to “smell the roses”. I’m not saying that the movie needs to be 3 hours long, but a little bit longer (at least ten or fifteen minutes) would’ve been beneficial. In the end, the “crammed” narration feels like needs the room to breathe and a feature film endeavor doesn’t seem like the appropriate way to present the continuation of HBO’s Deadwood series.
This goes back to the classic dilemma of a film adaptation (be television show, video game, or novel), which sees the restrictive nature of a movie and lacks the immersive depth that its original form was able to capture. Because of this, the story of Deadwood: The Movie seems more like a condensed version of a TV season. Of course, the feature’s narrative tries to wrap up and lot of events that took place during the end of the show’s third season, but it offers up more questions rather than answering. Yes, what’s presented is great (and I loved it), but it all sort of feels a bit undercooked; considering itself with a main story thread (i.e. the character of Hearst) and not so much in some of its side characters / plots. Thus, the movie succeeds in being a genuine continuation of what’s come before (i.e the show), but fails in overcrowding its narrative. Because of this, several characters don’t really have much to do in the movie other than appearing for nostalgia purposes or rather continuity reasons. Even storylines threads are presented (explaining what has been in-between the ten-year gap of show and movie), but (again) it feels a bit underwhelming; leaving some storyline / narrative threads left unfinished by the time the credits begin to roll. Maybe because I’m fan of the show and sincerely wished that the show would return for a whole new season rather than a movie. Like I said above…. It definitely makes me wonder what would season four of the show would’ve been?
What made Deadwood create was in the various characters that populate the small-town community as well as the talented actors and actresses that play. Of course, the big highlight of Deadwood: The Movie is seeing most of the various acting talents return to reprise their characters once again. Naturally, leading character actors for the show Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane returned to play Deadwood’s main characters of Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen. Olyphant, known for his roles in Justified, Go, and Santa Clarita Diet, continues to deliver in his acting talents and certainly easily slides back into his role of Bullock; providing the right amount of the no non-sense / straight man to make their character still quite compelling / commanding whenever he’s on-screen. Likewise, McShane, known for his roles in Kung Fu Panda, American Gods, and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, is superb in returning to Swearengen; making the character feel like he never really left him…. picking up the character with all the fanciful words and oratory presence he is. In a nutshell, both Olyphant and McShane’s portrayals of Bullock and Swearengen definitely made the show and they definitely made the movie!
In larger supporting roles are some of the secondary main characters of Deadwood, including actor Dayton Callie (Sons of Anarchy and Fear the Walking Dead) as Charlie Utter, actor John Hawkes (Everest and Lincoln) as Sol Star, actress Paula Malcomson (Tombstone and The Hunger Games) as Trixie, and actor Gerald McRaney (Focus and House of Cards) as George Hearst. Like Olyphant and McShane, these characters play important roles in the TV series and do so again in Deadwood: The Movie; finding each one of them giving the opportunity to give their respective characters some type of closure / continuation in a wholesome way. The only actor that I felt didn’t work was in the character of Alma Garret Ellsworth, who is played by actress Molly Parker (American Pastoral and House of Cards). She’s definitely important in both the series and this movie, but it’s a bit unclear of her involvement in Deadwood: The Movie (more for continuity reasons than a concrete storyline placement); leaving her narrative thread a bit ambiguous by the time the feature ends.
The rest of the Deadwood’s returning veterans include the likes of actor W. Earl Brown (Black Mass and Draft Day) as Dan Dority, actor Sean Bridgers (Sweet Home Alabama and Free State of Jones) as Johnny Burns, actor Franklyn Ajaye (Pirate Islands and The Jazz Singer) as Samuel Fields, actor William Sanderson (Blade Runner and True Blood) as E.B. Farnum, actress Cleo King (Magnolia and The Bye Bye Man) as Aunt Lou, actress Geri Jewel (The Facts of Life and 21 Jump Street) as Jewel, actress Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad and Sully) as Seth’s wife Martha Bullock, actor Brad Dourif (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Dune) as Doc Cochran, actress Robin Weigert (Pawn Sacrifice and Big Little Lies) as Calamity Jane, actress Kim Dickens (Gone Girl and Blind Side) as Joanie Stubbs, actor Keone Young (Crank and Star Wars Rebels) as Mr. Wu, and actor Jeffery Jones (Beetlejuice and Amadeus) as J.W. Merrick. All of these acting talents are great and it’s quite a treat to see all of them come back together in easily slide back into their character roles with vigor and fun….as if they never left their character personas 13 years ago.
With majority of the show’s characters returning, Deadwood: The Movie does have several new characters, including actress Jade Pettyjohn (Trial by Fire and Destroyer) as Caroline Woodgarden, a newly arrival female prostitute in Deadwood and the grown-up version of Sofia Ellsworth, who is now played by actress (This is Us and Young Sheldon). In amongst the film taking precedent in spending time in already established characters, both characters of Caroline and Sofia get shortchanged; appearing the movie for either continuity reasons or for various characters to explain a few expositional scenes.
All bleeding stops eventually as the residents of Deadwood, South Dakota have trouble brewing on the horizon in the film Deadwood: The Movie. Director Daniel Minahan latest endeavor sees the return to the HBO’s Deadwood series; continuing the narrative through a feature film and allowing the series to close up on a well-deserved high note. While the condensed time restrictions of a feature film are problematic in the story (really did wish that they did a season 4 instead), the movie succeeds in its well-developed characters, sharp writing (i.e. dialogue), a genuinely engaging story / plot, a fantastic presentation, and an incredible solid cast. To me, I loved this movie. It was definitely an entertaining way to return back to Deadwood and to see all the various characters (and acting talents) once again. Plus, it was such a treat to see the show sort of get a more “concluded” feel than it did at the end of season three. As I mentioned before, if you’re a fan of the show…. you’ll love the movie. Thus, my recommendation for the film is a definite “highly recommended” one as it will please those Deadwood fans out there…. with gleeful rejoice. While the movie acts a sort of “conclusion” to the series, the movie’s ending does leave it open for another possible return back to the Deadwood (and really hope that they do) in some shape or form. Even if that idea never happens, Deadwood: The Movie offers up a satisfying send-off to the beloved HBO series of richly developed characters, great dramatic presentation, and smooth blend of historical / fictional material, and just plain and simple…. great storytelling!
4.3 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: May 31st, 2019
Reviewed On: June 20th, 2019
Deadwood: The Movie is 110 minutes long and is rated (by TV rating standards) TV-MA