The HBO series Deadwood told the story of the infamous mining town of Deadwood, South Dakota, post-Civil War years before it was a part of any U.S. State or territory. The camp was literally a lawless land attracting people looking to get rich after huge gold strikes, as well as those looking to capitalize on the lack of organized law in the camp built on land stolen from the Sioux.
The show lasted three seasons from 2004-2006 but created a cult following that has withstood the test of time. The series finale aired August 27, 2006.
The final season revolved around the arrival of George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), a wealthy American businessman, miner, and politician. Hearst arrived in the Black Hills in hopes to expand the Homestake Mine. Hearst ends up having Whitney Ellsworth (Jim Beaver) killed to try and get Alma Ellsworth (Molly Parker) to sell her land left by her late first husband and have her give up her gold claim. In the season finale the town is in an uproar over the Ellsworth’s death, knowing fully well who was behind it all while in the middle of an historical election in Deadwood history.
It has been 13 years since the series finale. For years, HBO had been teasing fans with hopes of a movie.
Finally, after over a decade of waiting, fans didn’t have to wait any longer.
Warning: This review contains spoilers!
Deadwood: The Movie takes place in 1889, as South Dakota became a state and 10 years after the season finale. Hearst, who is now a U.S. Senator, returns to Deadwood, South Dakota for the town’s celebration of gaining statehood. Hearst, who takes credit for modernizing the mining town by introducing telephone lines into the community, is interested in expanding. To do so, he needs access to more lumber to build telephone poles. Hearst pursues the town’s beloved Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie) hoping to convince him to sell his land. When Utter refuses, history repeats itself when Utter is found dead.
Fans like me had been waiting a long time for this movie. Over the years, we fans have heard whispers about a potential movie and had our hopes stoked for so long. So, like you, I was excited and had high expectations for this film. But I found myself disappointed.
It was 2 hours of characters rehashing relationships with a plot that didn’t need to happen. It was literally the same plot from season three. All I could think while watching was that they waited 13 years just to give us this? The movie had nothing to do with statehood and didn’t even touch on any of the historically significant events that had happened in Deadwood within those 10 years.
The first 30 minutes of the movie involved characters reuniting, showcasing how much everyone has changed: Trixie (Paula Malcomson) and Sol (Jon Hawkes) are expecting a baby; Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) is sick; Alma Ellsworth has returned to town for the celebration; and Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) is the Marshal who also owns and operates the now famous Bullock motel with his wife. Mixed in was the unnecessary use of flashbacks from the season three finale and moments from the series. In my opinion, that is poor and lazy writing. All they are there for is to fill time. We fans watching this movie have (most likely) already seen the show, so we already know what happened. The use of flashbacks needed to be much more sparse.
The audience is introduced to a new character, a pretty young thing named Caroline Woolgarden (Jade Pettyjohn). Caroline shows up in town the same time as Alma and her daughter do. Caroline starts working at the Gem as one of Al’s girls, and that’s all we know about Caroline. For a new face that shows up into town and is around for the whole movie, the audience doesn’t know her back story or why she came to town. Caroline is thrown into the plot and is kind of just.. there. I thought her character was unnecessary. She offered absolutely nothing to the plot.
Swearengen, who runs the town and has been the show’s main antagonist through its entire run, is now much older and severely sick with liver damage from years of heavy drinking. Swearengen was a foul-mouthed, knife-welding badass who did what he wanted, when he wanted. But in the movie, they made him a weak old man. Granted, his poor health has taken its toll over the years, but his purpose in this film — at least, as this Al Swearengen — seemed pointless. It was a real shame to see him like this, and I feel like they did him dirty.
After Trixie gives birth to her and Sol’s little boy, they end up getting married, which was a long overdue union — a moment where the entire viewing audience shouted in unison, finally! But of course, the happy celebration doesn’t last long, because Hearst shows up uninvited, ruining their good time by throwing threats around to Bullock after he had confronted him about the deaths of Utter and Ellsworth. (Because threatening law enforcement officials always works in peoples’ best interests.) Bullock finally arrests Hearst, who ends up getting beaten up by a group of townspeople before he gets dragged off to the jail.
The movie ends with Trixie sitting at Swearengen’s bedside. The two shared a long and volatile relationship, as Trixie used to work for Swearengen and was his favorite girl. The two share a deep and poignant conversation, while Trixie holds his hand. You get the sense that Al is starting to slip away. A heartbroken Trixie begins to pray, as the camera pans onto their hands. Al’s hand slowly loses its grip. And while it is not specifically stated, it is implied that Al has died, and this is how the movie ends. This scene unfortunately becomes a very predictable ending to a disappointing movie.
There was so much hype for this movie leading up to its release, because we needed closure. However, the movie didn’t provide the closure we needed. It felt like the movie was made, just so Hearst could come back and kill Charlie Utter. It was unnecessary. The way the tv series ended was sufficient; we didn’t need Hearst returning. But Hearst ended up getting what was coming to him, which was admittedly satisfying. They did Ellsworth wrong in season three, and I feel like he got the justice he deserved in this film. But there was so much they could have done to improve this movie, and it feels like they missed the mark big time.
I hope you enjoyed this review. Be sure to let us know in the comments below what you thought about Deadwood: The Movie.