Deadwood: The Movie. 2019.
Directed by Daniel Minahan.
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Paula Malcomson, W. Earl Brown, Dayton Callie, Kim Dickens, Brad Dourif, Anna Gunn, John Hawkes, Leon Rippy, William Sanderson, Robin Weigert, Brent Sexton, Sean Bridgers and Gerald McRaney.
The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.
Ending an acclaimed TV show is tough in even the most fortuitous of circumstances, as evidenced by Game of Thrones‘ divisive recent series-capper. But because sky-high (and arguably unrealistic) fan expectations weren’t enough for HBO’s belated, two-hour Deadwood wrap-up, this “series finale” of sorts faced a heap of additional creative and personal roadblocks.
The issues are myriad and multi-faceted; arriving almost 15 years after HBO dealt the show a shock cancellation; several active cast members dying in the interim (namely the brilliant Powers Boothe); finding a way to plausibly reconstitute the cast; paying-off the agonising cliffhanger of its final episode; and the tragic pall cast by writer-creator David Milch being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly before production started.
And yet, with so much working against it, it’s a beaming pleasure to report that Deadwood: The Movie isn’t merely a riveting, unexpectedly emotional farewell to these beloved characters, but among the most richly satisfying and integrity-filled finales in the history of the medium.
While even many of TV’s best-ever works have fallen prey to excess sentiment and inconsistent characterisation while straining to deliver an all-things-for-all-people finale, Milch is just too damn good for that. Just like the all-timer finales of Six Feet Under, The Shield and, yes, The Sopranos, Deadwood: The Movie sticks the landing with creativity, bravery and, above all else, truth to every character and narrative thread contained within its world.
The film takes place a decade after the show ended, with the overwhelming majority of the camp’s residents, both young and old, mainstay and transitory, reuniting to celebrate South Dakota’s impending statehood. It’s about as neat and tidy an explanation as one could contrive to recall the show’s principal cast, and it’s one few fans will struggle to accept.
What certainly helps sell the set-up is the well-advised time jump, which allows Milch and co. to explore the ravages of time with devastating aplomb. Following a fist-pumping, misty-eyed introductory sequence featuring the show’s opening fanfare, fans may well be left fighting back additional tears seeing so many characters so thoroughly aged, especially as many of the cast members have flown relatively low between the series and this film.
It’s tough not to witness the noticeably gaunt Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), the grey-haired Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie) or a ludicrously grizzled Doc Cochran (Brad Dourif) and not wistfully meditate on one’s own impermanence. In a bout of hilarious irony, though, the hard-boozing Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert) barely looks to have aged a day.
And while it’d certainly be easy for Milch to rest on his laurels and dine out on his fanbase’s emotional attachment to the characters juxtaposed against the passage of time, Deadwood: The Movie manages the near-impossible of juggling satisfying pay-offs to all the major character arcs while circling back to the camp’s feud with savage season three baddie George Hearst (Gerald McRaney).
Doing all this inside of a mere 110 minutes without rushing is practically miraculous, all the more so given the show’s famously meditative pacing. And yet, the film doesn’t simply feel like the truncated scraps of a fourth season glued together, but a deeply-felt snapshot that gives a searing impression of what these characters have been up to for the prior decade.
Furthermore, given that HBO famously reneged on their initial plans to give Milch two movies to tie off the series, it would’ve surprised nobody if this film ended up feeling rather on the cheaper, slung-together end of TV movie revivals. And yet, there isn’t a frame of Deadwood: The Movie that doesn’t belong on a cinema screen; from its gorgeous establishing glimpses of Deadwood’s lush vistas, to David Klein’s beautifully rich lensing, Daniel Minahan’s knowing shot selections and clever editing between new footage and wonderfully remastered flashbacks, this is surely one of the most lovingly-crafted TV movies ever made.
But what would all this be without the cast, and this is where the film absolutely shines the brightest. Deadwood‘s ensemble bafflingly never received major awards plaudits despite universal acclaim, most of all Ian McShane failing to win the Outstanding Lead Actor Emmy on his single nomination across the three series. However, McShane’s deeply moving reprise of Al Swearengen should make him a firm contender for the 2019 gong, lending a mighty sense of humanity to the foul-mouthed pragmatist, yet without ever compromising his core values or transplanting his personality.
Elsewhere, Timothy Olyphant gives what’s surely his series-best performance as U.S. Marshall Seth Bullock, and though it’s often said that Olyphant’s fine work played second-fiddle to McShane’s throughout the seasons, it’s much tougher to make that argument here. Singling out many across the rest of the ensemble – the overwhelming majority of whom opted to return – is majorly challenging, but Gerald McRaney certainly deserves strong praise for his deliciously loathsome return as George Hearst, and Robin Weigert once again brings a tragic yearning to Calamity Jane.
In less than two hours, Milch moves his characters on with births, deaths, justice and injustice, yet is smart enough to leave the book open because, as in life, things are rarely tied off with a bow. Perhaps were Milch not battling a tragic health crisis fans might feel emboldened to beg for a sequel down the line, but given that this is likely the writer’s own professional epilogue, it’s fitting that the film brings with it a certain finality, despite actually ending in quite elliptical fashion.
13 years following the show’s heartbreaking cancellation, Deadwood: The Movie gives fans the emotional – if certainly not definitive – closure they so thoroughly deserve.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.