deadwood the movie review

After more than a decade, it’s time to ride back into Deadwood one final time. Creator David Milch has made good on his promise to conclude his Shakespearian Western, bringing back nearly every character audiences grew to love and hate over the three seasons of the original show. The end result is sweet and melancholy, and definitively finite. The impending future is a running theme through Deadwood: The Movie – a constant reminder to these aging characters that you can’t move forward without burying the past in a shallow grave.

Deadwood: The Movie may be the official title, but you’d do well to think of this more as Deadwood: The Series Finale. What writer and show creator David Milch and director Daniel Minahan have crafted here is a proper conclusion not just to the series as a whole, but also to Deadwood‘s third and unexpectedly final season. In the world of the show, ten years have passed, yet everyone here is still holding onto the same grudges and resentments they had in the final moments of the final episode of season 3.

That may seem unrealistic, and even a bit stagey. We’re supposed to believe a decade has gone by, but the characters here are still reacting to events that happened back then as if they were fresh. But that inability to let go of the past is a prime theme of Deadwood: The Movie. “We’re all of us haunted by our own fuckin’ thoughts,” says Gem Saloon owner Al Swearengen (Ian McShane). “So make friends with the ghost, it ain’t going anywhere.”

It’s 1889, and South Dakota is about to enter into the Union to become the 40th state. Telephone poles are sprouting up all over Deadwood like weeds. “The future awaits!”, as the vile George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) is fond of saying. Hearst, the big bad of the entire show, has moved up in the world. He’s still obscenely wealthy and despised by nearly everyone in camp, but he’s only grown more powerful by becoming a Senator from California. That doesn’t stop him from riding into town to lord over what he owns in Deadwood.

Hearst may be fond of the idea of the future, but he, too, can’t let the past go – especially when it comes to past sleights. In season 3, Hearst was shot by prostitute Trixie (Paula Malcomson), who was avenging the death of Ellsworth, a local Hearst had killed. Swearengen murdered another prostitute in Trixie’s stead to appease Hearst’s bloodlust, but as Deadwood: The Movie kicks off, Hearst finally realizes the woman who was murdered was not the woman who shot him. This memory is spurned on by Trixie herself as she proceeds to verbally assail Hearst the minute he shows up in town. Trixie is living with Sol Star (John Hawkes), and her life appears to be headed in a good direction – until Hearst shows up. And if you think Hearst might let bygones be bygone, then you don’t know George Hearst.

Elsewhere in town, lawman and hotel owner Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) still harbors feelings for Ellsworth’s widow, Alma (Molly Parker), and she clearly is still enamored with him. Their relationship was cut short when Bullock’s wife Martha (Anna Gunn) came to town. And while Bullock and Martha seem content together now, and have a brood of children to prove it, he can’t help going silent and lovestruck when Alma shows up.

Also back in town: Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert), as drunk and mumbly as ever, back to claim the woman she loves, brothel owner Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens). Of all the plotlines unfolding in Deadwood: The Movie, the Jane and Joanie is perhaps the sweetest, with the two women at odds at first before slowly coming around to realizing they need each other.

deadwood movie review

And what of Al Swearengen, the man who began Deadwood clearly as a villain, but blossomed into something of an anti-hero as the show progressed? He spends a good chunk of Deadwood: The Movie bedridden due to an illness. But not even debilitating sickness can keep him from keeping track of, and interfering with, the affairs of camp.

The direct way The Movie ties into the finale of season 3 is jarring at first. I’ll confess I was expecting something that stood on its own – a movie that could be viewed by those who had never watched an episode of the original show. But that’s not the case. If you’ve failed to watch Deadwood – especially season 3 – you’ll likely be lost about five minutes into the runtime. This perhaps isn’t the best way to approach a film, even a film spun-off from a show. But this is what Milch wanted to do: provide closure, and reward audiences who’ve waited to see a proper ending to the series.

Milch’s dialogue is more Shakespearian than ever, with characters often slipping into iambic pentameter and meter. “Having so lived in recollection, it is my considerable happiness to see you again,” Alma tells Bullock when they reunite. “No less a happiness, Mrs. Ellsworth, than is seeing you for me,” Bullock says, his voice quivering. “As a dream might come alive to draw breath,” Alma replies in nearly a whisper.

And of course, those trademark Deadwood vulgarities are let loose just as easily as they ever were – no other group of people on the planet can say “cocksucker” as lyrically as this ensemble. Speaking of that ensemble, they’re all in fine form here, easily slipping back into their parts as if they were putting on a comfy, well-worn sweater. But they also bring the passage of time into their demeanors. Olyphant’s Bullock has mellowed considerable since we’ve last seen him – but that doesn’t mean he can’t boil with rage now and then. And Al, once so lively and full of fire, is a shell of his former self – slower, raspier. Time has caught up with him. After all, the future is coming, and the inescapable specter of death is ever-present.

It was recently revealed that Milch was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and it’s impossible not to separate such a diagnosis from the prevailing sense of mortality, and the fleeting nature of life itself, that hangs over this film.

“I take us to be collections of cells, each agregat a smaller, separate life inside us,” Doc Cochran (Brad Dourif) tells Al during a conversation about death. “And time slows, and finally stops.”

“I’d not prolong the chewing up, nor being spat out,” Al replies. “Not go out a cunt. It’s the dispatch I find inglorious.”

And perhaps that’s ultimately the purpose of Deadwood: The Movie. A chance to not prolong death, but to face it on your own terms. To not be dispatched ingloriously. To say goodbye, and smile sardonically while doing it.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Deadwood: The Movie premieres on HBO May 31, 2019.

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer for /Film. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, RogerEbert.com, Nerdist, Mashable, and more. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net