HBO’s “Deadwood” was a rather brilliant parable of corruption and violence that forever changed this country. The show’s now infamous “Deadwood Speak” (courtesy of the great David Milch) and its rich detail to character made it something truly unique.
Fans were floored when the show was abruptly cancelled after season three and argued their favorite characters and plot lines never had the chance for proper closure.
HBO heard the rallying cries and gave us “Deadwood: The Movie.” Written by Milch and directed by Daniel Minahan, this was to be a proper sendoff for the characters and the show.
Unfortunately, the story feels too hastily cobbled together as it tries to cram in everything and everyone to please fans, at the expense of fluidity.
The challenging desire to bring back as many regulars as possible makes the film sloppy.
Con Stapleton (the great Peter Jason) is now the town minister only to warrant him being in the film. A.W. Merrick (the treasure that is Jeffery Jones) seems to only be there at two important moments because his character should simply be there. Molly Parker’s Alma is on hand only to make Marshall Bullock (the always great Timothy Olyphant) weak at the knees and to be the “hero” in a crucial moment of drama.
The only proper use of the show’s returning players is Bullock, Sol Star (John Hawkes), Trixie (Paula Malcolmson), Calamity Jane (the outstanding Robin Weigert) and Al Fucking Swearengen, played with his usual effortless intelligence by Ian McShane.
There is pleasure watching the writers and filmmakers, to be sure, return to their creation. It’s fun to discover who remained and who moseyed on out.
I also enjoyed the return of Hearst (Gerald McRaney) and how he has become even more power-mad than when we last saw him. His plan to buy up the land to run his telephone poles through is the basis for the drama. As we learned from the show, Hearst is a villain that even other bad men will rally against. As the town reunites to celebrate its induction into South Dakota, Hearst cuts his violent path and the drama begins.
Unhappily, the plot is a tired rehash of the confrontation between Hearst and Bullock from the final season, with nothing more added in, except for the fact that we know that there will be a final outcome. The story is paper-thin.
I am sure Milch and company were aiming for nostalgia but what we get is a crowd-pleaser of a film. Every character no matter how small gets a moment, with some are night and day from what we remember them to be, without explanation. Too many times are we forced to look sweetly on men who used to be stone-cold killers and the issues between Bullock and his wife (a completely wasted Anna Gunn) are never properly explored as Gunn almost completely disappears in the background.
And as good as McShane is, he can’t overcome the déjà vu of his being bedridden with an illness during season two.
In fairness, this film does have its moments. The most telling is a conversation between Doc Cochran and Swearengen. David Milch has revealed his Alzheimer’s diagnosis and the film’s peak includes its best line, which one can only imagine he wrote after learning of his own fate. “I take us to be collections of cells, each holds a smaller, separate life inside us. And time slows, and finally stops.”
It is this kind of wisdom and insight that made the show such a treasure. “Deadwood: The Movie” holds a few of these nuggets but, alas, too few. While it was a nice reunion, I was left in want.