Fitting farewell to Deadwood

Deadwood stars Timothy Olyphant (above left) and John Hawkes.
Deadwood stars Timothy Olyphant (above left) and John Hawkes.PHOTO: HBO

The characters of the critically revered series re-assemble for a concluding film

REVIEW / WESTERN DRAMA

DEADWOOD: THE MOVIE (M18)

105 minutes/Streaming on HBO Go/ 4 stars

The story: Thirteen years after the end of the third and final season of Deadwood, the critically revered but moderately popular series, the characters of the town that gives the show its name are re-assembled for a concluding film. It is 1889 and Marshal Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) has to keep the peace in a place roiling with activity. The magnate, George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), now a senator, has returned to buy land for his telephone network. Saloon keeper Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), former prostitute Trixie (Paula Malcomson) and Bullock's former business partner Sol (John Hawkes) are caught in a murder plot.


Before it was yanked off the air after its third season in 2006, Deadwood was famed for two things: winning awards for acting, directing and writing, and its generous use of the f-word. Who could blame the characters?

The camp, and later, town of Deadwood is a microcosm of an America racing to be a continental force, a space lawful enough for corporate interests, but lawless enough that those who stand in their way can be brushed aside.

Its citizens - Welsh miners, Jewish storekeepers, farmers, prostitutes, Chinese labourers and saloon owners - are as often crushed under the wheels of progress as they are transported by it. Swear words become their shield and battle cry - and often, their final utterances.

Series creator and writer David Milch, who also wrote the screenplay of this film, wants to lay out a people's history without making any of its working-class characters saintly or excessively noble.

In the especially foul-mouthed saloon proprietor Al Swearengen (McShane), Milch created a boss for the ages: an ill-tempered, murderous and deeply cynical racist who sometimes does the right thing, if for the wrong reasons.

 

The tycoon Hearst (McRaney) first appeared in Season 2 and, in this film, again represents how political and corporate power are two sides of the same coin.

In McRaney's hands, he is a deliciously evil villain, a cold-eyed monster with perfect manners, who sees the tamed West as a land of opportunity for his kind - and his kind only.

Milch clearly has his eye on current affairs when he penned the film's central idea that if Deadwood's lowest does nothing, everything will be taken from it.

Even if beloved residents such as Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert), hotel manager E.B. Farnum (William Sanderson) and widow Alma Ellsworth (Molly Parker) do not get nearly enough screen time, this film remains a fitting and satisfying farewell.

• Stream Deadwood: The Movie on HBO Go, which is available via StarHub, Singtel and Toggle.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2019, with the headline 'Fitting farewell to Deadwood'. Print Edition | Subscribe