Review: Deadwood – The Movie

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

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PLOT: An ailing Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) has his hands full when George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) returns to Deadwood demanding the life of Al’s former squeeze, Trixie (Paula Malcolmson), the vengeful ex-prostitute who tried to murder Hearst a decade earlier. Meanwhile, Marshal Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) goes on the warpath when one of the town’s most beloved citizens is brutally murdered.

REVIEW: First- something obvious. If you’ve never watched “Deadwood”, this isn’t the place to start. You might be curious as to why, after thirteen years, HBO decided to resurrect the show, but trust me – DEADWOOD: THE MOVIE makes no allowances for non-fans. If you haven’t watched the show, go back to the beginning and dig in. It’s among the best TV shows ever made and I’d even wager that without “Deadwood”, there would be no “Game of Thrones.”

If you’re a fan though, rejoice. DEADWOOD: THE MOVIE picks up right where the third season left off. So much, in fact, that it almost feels like David Milch wrote this as two more episodes for the season that were never filmed, with the only real concession to the intervening years being that this is set a decade later.

Otherwise, not much has changed, thankfully. Swearengen is as foul-mouthed and cantankerous as ever, with Ian McShane obviously relishing digging back into his defining role. Despite being nearly eighty, McShane doesn’t look all that much different than he did in 2006, although he’s made up to look ill due to story requirements, with Swearengen seriously sick throughout (although he’s still active – this isn’t a repeat of the season two storyline where he infamously grappled with a kidney stone).

The continuity is flawless, with Milch picking up on all the important storylines from season three, the most significant being Trixie’s attempted murder of the evil Hearst, which led to Al murdering the innocent Jen in order to protect her. Since then, we’re shown that Trixie’s left prostitution (and Al to some extent) behind, settling into a relationship with the ever-patient Saul (John Hawkes) and even expecting a baby.

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Indeed, we’re shown that life has gone on in Deadwood, with Bullock’s brood with Martha (Anna Gunn) expanding, although things are complicated when Alma (Molly Parker) returns to town with the now grown-Sophia. Given that there are only 110 minutes to wrap things up, some characters are in it more than others (William Sanderson’s E.B. Farnum only really gets one great scene while Jeffrey Jones’s A.W. Merrick is mostly peripheral). Still, Milch does a great job making sure most characters get some kind of closure, with some great moments for Robin Weigert’s fan-favorite Calamity Jane, Kim Dickens’s Joanie Stubbs, and my favorite – Brad Dourif’s ever ornery Doc Cochran.

Like most of “Deadwood”, the movie is a slow-burn. It’s always been more about character than action, so if you’re expecting a lot of carnage, you’re not going to get it. There’s nothing on the same level as the ultra-brutal fight that pitted W. Earl Brown’s Dan against Hearst’s man in season three or the epic throwdown between Al and Seth in season two, but there’s one cool, brutal shoot-out about two-thirds of the way in that scratched the right itch.

The main hook of the film is that one of Deadwood’s citizens is killed and Bullock’s plenty pissed, putting him on a collision course with the powers that be, and furthering his tenuous allegiance with Al. The two have always been like the yin and yang of Deadwood, and the movie expertly shows how, after ten years of working with Al, Bullock’s not quite as clean-cut as he used to be, even if he has a cleaner conscience than most in town (only Saul and Dayton Callie’s Charlie Utter are more upstanding). The role put Olyphant on the map, and the years have only improved his performance, making one wish more Deadwood was in his future, even if that seems unlikely.

Suffice to say, no one’s really missed a beat in the intervening years. Milch’s scripting is as profane as ever, with McShane once again putting the swear in Swearengen. Series director Daniel Minahan is back as well, with the production values as high as ever, maybe more so with Dave Klein’s ultra-sharp lensing giving it a lavish look, helped by the scope photography, giving the show an epic send-off. While the closing moments strongly suggest this is the last we’ll see of Deadwood, HBO’s given the show the closure all of us mega-fans have been hoping for. It’s pretty hard to imagine anyone won’t be fully satisfied. Everything’s not tied up in a bow, but then again whatever was on “Deadwood”? This is a welcome, bittersweet return for Milch’s epic series, and one fans will be grateful got made at all.

Review: Deadwood – The Movie




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.