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Official Western Challenge - May 2019

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Post by blocho »

Lonewolf2003 wrote: June 5th, 2019, 3:31 pm
blocho wrote: June 2nd, 2019, 2:00 am 46. Deadwood: The Movie (2019)

I'm happy to end this challenge with the long-awaited Deadwood finale. I have complicated feelings about it, but overall I very much enjoyed the experience. I think that's chiefly for the same reasons I enjoyed the original series: interesting characters, wonderful production design, and a script that unfolds with deliciously labyrinthine elocution and speech patterns. It is a pleasure to hear the residents of Deadwood speak.

But let me return to the subject of characters, for it is there that I think Deadwood (the movie) falls short. And I'll also go to spoilers -- (there's also a spoiler below, oddly enough, for the 1980 mega-flop Heaven's Gate, so you might not want to read if you haven't seen that movie)
I think the makers of the movie got trapped by the desire to provide what is commonly known as fan service. As such, they shoehorned in almost all of the characters from the original series who were (a) living at the end of season 3 and (b) played by actors that have not died since 2006. Even some actors whose characters were killed in the series showed up in cameo roles (Garrett Dillahunt, who played two different roles in the series, plays a drunk in a mob scene). As a result, attention is divided far too much, leading to perfunctory and unsatisfactory subplots. For example, the Alma-Seth and the Jane-Joanie subplots. We are provided no reason these characters return to Deadwood. And once they do, they give us a few scenes of tension with their former paramours that lead either to continued separation (Alma-Seth) or reconciliation (Jane-Joanie). I have to admit I liked a few of the character returns. Con Stapleton's random appearance in one scene was a lark--one of the town's rogues has apparently now become the town minister--but many of the more dramatically important characters were given little to do.

That being said, I have to admit that the Seth-Alma and Jane-Joanie subplots have their thematic intent, unsatisfactory though they were in isolation. To me, there are two great themes in this movie: (1) the uses and abuses of the law, especially as a matter of individual conscience and (2) the coming together of a community. These themes are NOT A BIG FUCKING SURPRISE. Those were themes of the original show, and to a great extent the movie feels like a recapitulation of season 3, with the murder of Charlie Utter standing in for the murder of Ellsworth. With regard to the theme of community, I was a bit startled by the movie's optimism. The wedding scene at the end reminded me a lot of some of the celebration scenes in Heaven's Gate. Both seem to suggest that well-intentioned people can build something beautiful and fulfilling in the wilderness, thus escaping their past problems. In Heaven's Gate, that optimism is misplaced. The movie's title is ironic because 1890 Montana proves to be no heaven at all. The irony here is that the optimism is warranted, even though Deadwood was one of the most resolutely pessimistic series ever ... well, maybe it's warranted. The movie concludes happily if tearily, with Hearst jailed, Al dying but reconciled to the people he cares about, a newborn babe, a newly married couple, a reaffirmed Bullock marriage, and even some solace for Johnny Burns. But ...

Let's talk about the theme of law. Bullock gets one of the movie's standout lines when he says, "My job ain't to follow the law. My job is to interpret it and then enforce it accordingly." Bullock's divided nature was one of the through lines in the original series. He was a righteous lawman guided by a strong moral bent, who also cheated on his wife, had a very serious anger management problem, ignored multiple crimes when it suited him, and on multiple occasions beat people's faces to a pulp. He was a bully who thought himself a good man. And when he called Hearst a bully in the final episode, it was a moment of startling hypocrisy. Bullock's moment of truth in this movie comes during the mob scene. He has confronted Hearst twice already, killed his bodyguards, and now arrested him. He has done this knowing that it will not end his troubles. The mob presents a moment of salvation. If the mob kills Hearts, Bullock might just get his revenge on Hearst, prevent Hearst from further depredations (especially the threat to Trixie), and escape consequence because blame will fall on the mob. And instead he decides to rescue Hearst, providing a throwback to the first scene of the whole series. Strategically, it's a disastrous decision, and if Al saw it I think he would be furious.

And that brings me back to the seemingly happy ending. The constant refrain of the series' third season was that the people of Deadwood could not act against Hearst. The assumption was that he was so powerful and moneyed that even if they killed him, then his heirs/associates/executors would arrive quickly with enormous power and fury and destroy everyone. This assumption is what led to Al spending the entire third season moping around. At the end of the movie, with Hearst in jail, the buoyant mood of the town feels dangerous and hollow. Hearst will beat the rap for killing Utter. And he will exact vengeance. The town of Deadwood feels stuck upon a precipice. Has the world ever danced so frivolously atop a volcano?
I saw and loved the series about 10 year ago. Is the movie watchable without having recently seen the series and knowing all the detail of the story? (I will read or watch a recap of the series to refresh my memory about the basic plots lines.)
Yes, definitely. The movie also includes very brief flashbacks to the series (5-second snippets), which I think do a good job of reminding viewers about previous character dynamics without interrupting the flow of the story.
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