Review: 'Deadwood: The Movie,' A Finale As Brilliant As The TV Series David Milch, creator of HBO's Deadwood: The Movie, never strikes a false note upon his return to the lawless 19th century mining town at the center of his earlier series.
NPR logo

13 Years Later, 'Deadwood' Goes Out Just As Brilliantly As It Came In

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/728586097/728700656" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
13 Years Later, 'Deadwood' Goes Out Just As Brilliantly As It Came In

Review

TV Reviews

13 Years Later, 'Deadwood' Goes Out Just As Brilliantly As It Came In

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/728586097/728700656" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm TV critic David Bianculli sitting in for Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID SCHWARTZ'S "THEME FROM DEADWOOD")

BIANCULLI: Tonight on HBO, the network presents a new made-for-TV movie that serves as a reunion special and a long-delayed finale for one of the finest TV series ever offered by HBO or anyone else. "Deadwood: The Movie" picks up the story years later, about the same amount of time that has passed since David Milch's pioneering Western series "Deadwood" left TV so abruptly 13 years ago. This gives us the occasion to listen back to interviews with Timothy Olyphant, who stars as Seth Bullock, and with David Milch, creator of the outstanding and influential "Deadwood" Western, which ran on HBO from 2004 to 2006.

But first, let's begin with my review of "Deadwood: The Movie" and, for that matter, a rereview of "Deadwood" the series. The three seasons of "Deadwood" were set in a mining town in the territory of the Dakotas. There was no established law there in 1876 when the series began. But there was plenty of gold and silver, which led to a quickly growing community of miners, laborers, gamblers, prostitutes, opportunists and outlaws.

One famous figure who came to Deadwood early was Wild Bill Hickok, played by Keith Carradine. But Wild Bill didn't last long, one of the first reminders that, in this town and in this TV series, danger and death threatened every single character no matter how prominent. And that fact of life and death in "Deadwood: The Movie" is there as well.

Character, relationships and language were the key ingredients of "Deadwood" and still are, as in this early scene from "Deadwood: The Movie" when Doc Cochran, played by Brad Dourif, examines the mental and physical condition of town boss Al Swearengen, played so powerfully by Ian McShane. Both men have survived everything Deadwood has thrown at them to this point, but both are a little worse for wear.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DEADWOOD: THE MOVIE")

BRAD DOURIF: (As Amos "Doc" Cochran) Name the day of the week, Al.

IAN MCSHANE: (As Al Swearengen) What difference does the day make?

DOURIF: (As Amos "Doc" Cochran) I'd have you. But say the name.

MCSHANE: (As Al Swearengen) Tuesday then, you half-a-scarecrow-looking (expletive).

DOURIF: (As Amos "Doc" Cochran) Friday it is.

MCSHANE: (As Al Swearengen) Oh, mistaken Friday for Tuesday - well, secure my burial plot.

DOURIF: (As Amos "Doc" Cochran) Well, your temperature's 2 degrees above normal - features drawn, flesh of a yellowish cast, pending (expletive) developments. I'd have you forbear from spirits.

MCSHANE: (As Al Swearengen) Under advisement.

DOURIF: (As Amos "Doc" Cochran) Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Don't you humor me nor talk down to me neither nor fix to mix in where you ain't been invited.

MCSHANE: (As Al Swearengen) Must you comport the very light to me?

DOURIF: (As Amos "Doc" Cochran) You went somewhat wrong at your liver, Al, is what you've goddamn done.

BIANCULLI: You have to admire and respect the degree of difficulty in the task facing David Milch here and how superbly he delivers. More than a dozen years later, a movie version of "Deadwood" has to serve as a reunion special, making room for the old show's surviving characters and actors.

The year is now 1889. And South Dakota is about to receive official statehood, the cause for a celebration that brings characters who left Deadwood back to reunite with those who stayed. But to move the story forward so many years, Milch had to imagine what those years were like for dozens of characters. And he never strikes a false note.

In the series version of "Deadwood," the drama escalated slowly but surely each season with a series of threats and villains more formidable and deadly than the last. In "Deadwood: The Movie," Milch jumpstarts that by using the Dakota statehood as an excuse to bring back to town one of its richest mine operators and nastiest villains, George Hearst, father of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst.

In the series version of "Deadwood," George Hearst, played by Gerald McRaney, had been responsible for several deaths and was frighteningly ruthless and powerful. But he left town at the end of Season 3 to return to California, where the real George Hearst became a U.S. senator. In "Deadwood: The Movie," Hearst returns to Deadwood as a prominent politician, a seemingly more rational and genial man ready to give a speech and expand his mining interests, as he does here offering to buy a neighboring claim from Charlie Utter, a favorite and defiantly independent "Deadwood" character played then and now by Dayton Callie.

Hearst, meeting Charlie Utter by a small stream on the land he wishes to buy, makes a generous cash offer. But Charlie isn't impressed or moved.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DEADWOOD: THE MOVIE")

DAYTON CALLIE: (As Charlie Utter) Contrariwise, men like to come to certain special field, partial, say, to a piece of ground, a river bending through the forest like so. I'm declining your offer, Mr. Hearst. Thank you for your time and attention.

GERALD MCRANEY: (As George Hearst) My experience over time has come to be - customarily, I am he who starts a negotiation, names its finish, too.

BIANCULLI: The history in "Deadwood: The Movie" is deliciously rich, not only the history of statehood and progress, with railroad trains and telephone lines pushing relentlessly towards the town, but also the history of the characters. David Milch battled Alzheimer's as he wrote the script for this long-awaited finale. And it may prove to be his final work. Anyways (ph), a word several of his "Deadwood" characters are prone to say, I can't imagine a better one.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID SCHWARTZ'S "THEME FROM DEADWOOD")

BIANCULLI: I just re-watched all of the "Deadwood" series to prepare for this review. And it stands up even more obviously and gloriously as one of the best TV dramas ever produced. And with this new HBO movie, "Deadwood" goes out just as brilliantly as it came in.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.