A Loving Send-Off;
To Characters And Setting;
Time Always Moves On.
When it was announced that Deadwood had been canceled before its third season aired, I had to check out before watching it. I had been so disappointed with Carnivale meeting a similar fate that I didn’t want to relive that again, so I figured it was best to just sit out the third season. I was elated to hear that this film was in production after so many years, and decided to watch one episode of the series every day leading up to its premiere. Even then, knowing that plot threads would arise that likely wouldn’t be tied off, it was great to revisit the series and finally take in its final season in preparation. When I sat down to watch this film for the first time, I was uneasy. My expectations were as high as everyone’s, but I also had a tinge of fear, worried that the it couldn’t possibly match the original magic. Or, perhaps, I was just anxious over the thought of finally putting these characters and this place to rest. But I’m happy to say that I had nothing to fear. After two emotional viewings, I’m extremely glad that this came to pass. The bow it ties on the Deadwood package may not be the neatest, but given these people and given this community, such perfection could hardly be expected or appreciated.
David Milch had a monumental task at hand. How do you go about wrapping up three seasons of television in the space of a single movie? Where do you start and which characters do you retain? Whose conflict should drive the plot and how should it resolve? Having such a great grasp of this world and a long time to think on it, Milch has plans for everything and lays the script out beautifully, bringing us back to Deadwood ten years after the events we last saw unfold. We rejoin the people we know, in situations both familiar and new. While Al Swearengen was always central to the plight of the camp, Bullock always represented the outsider, bringing a sense of lawfulness to this new land even when he wasn’t trying. He started as a hardware store owner, became Marshal, and now holds that title as well as being the co-owner of a hotel (along with Sol Star, of course). He and his wife have started a family of their own, after negotiating their initial difficulties. He is more entrenched than ever and has a sizable stake in the success of this place. George Hearst is back in town, but this time in the capacity of Junior Senator from California. Bullock and Hearst are certain to renew hostilities, while Al, acting as sort of a conduit for the audience, navigates in the shadows, steering the camp’s ship from troublesome waters, a sign of his growth.
Fan service is important in a project like this, but it must also stand on its own legs. Undoubtedly there will be folks watching who never saw the series, so important backstory is told through occasional, brief flashbacks that help guide us along. For new viewers, it explains vital points, and for the rest of us, they serve as somber reminders. There are homages to the original opening titles and even a nod to the original theme music, setting the stage beautifully for our reintroduction to the camp that has become a budding civilization. We recognize the landmarks and establishments, but Daniel Minahan finds new ways to shoot them, which helps to remind us that while we are familiar with this place, there is still much left unexplored, and will remain so after we fade to black.
Milch has written a truly wonderful script. The language we came to love is back in full force, equal measure flowery and unwashed. The dichotomy represented in the verbiage always spoke to the central idea of a place like Deadwood to begin with, struggling to push forward through the muck and grime and make of itself something better, something honorable. The frontier was built on the back of blood and this place is no different. But the path to the future is the thoroughfare that separates Deadwood’s past from its present. And its inhabitants will travel that road, willingly or otherwise.
I can’t say enough about the acting. The principals and side characters are all played wonderfully, capitalizing on their screen time, however short or long. Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Kim Dickens, Molly Parker, Paula Malcomson, Franklyn Ajaye, W. Earl Brown, Brad Dourif, Dayton Callie, Robin Weigert, John Hawkes, Gerald McRaney, Sean Bridgers and more all do amazing jobs embodying these characters once more, showing their changes and capturing all the necessary emotions to take us along for the ride into finality. Minahan, a TV vet whose list of shows and episodes is impressive to say the least, directs with precision, coaching this litany of great performances and capturing the feeling of the time and place that fans needed. He manages to make it feel both like an episode from fifteen years ago and something entirely new (thanks in part to technological advances), hitting an absolute home run. The film carries great emotional weight for those of us invested in the story, and effortlessly moved me to tears several times in its final act with things as simple as looks passed between characters or tender moments of dialogue.
The only complaint I could possibly level at this is a minor one, and it’s due no doubt to the constraints of telling the final chapter of the story in this type of fashion. There are a few characters we’d grown used to (Adams, Langrishe and Blazanov, to name a few) that are nowhere to be seen, and others (particularly Farnum and Merrick) whose screen time is unfortunately limited. But everyone can’t play the biggest part, and giving everyone a lot to do could potentially have expanded the story beyond what was needed to bring everything home. Perhaps the eventual home release will include a director’s cut, or at the least, deleted scenes.
Life operates in cycles, and a city can be viewed in the same light. We get a taste of all of that here. Friendships, lovers, enemies, fights. We see a birth, a death, a wedding and a funeral. We see human nature, good, bad and otherwise. People make choices and accept the outcomes. For as much as we may want things to stay the same, civilization moves forward.
Even, or perhaps especially, in Deadwood.
Have you seen Deadwood: The Movie? What did you think? Drop a comment below and head over to our Facebook Community for much more discussion!