‘Deadwood’ saddles up for long-deferred last ride

“Deadwood” was one of HBO’s greatest dramas, before coming to an abrupt end in 2006 — after just three seasons — due to a dispute between the network and series creator David Milch. “Deadwood: The Movie” provides a welcome if bittersweet, characteristically foul-mouthed reunion, one that more than justifies saddling up the entire gang for one more ride.

Written by Milch, whose recent revelation that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease adds a sobering note to the proceedings, the plot acknowledges the passage of time, as folks assemble in Deadwood, S.D. — a near-lawless territory when the series began — for a statehood celebration in 1889.

Most of the residents remain in place, having enjoyed some upward mobility in the intervening years, including saloonkeeper Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), who is experiencing the ill effects of his licentious lifestyle; and Marshal Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), who has settled into domestic life with his wife Martha (Anna Gunn), after a rocky start to a marriage entered into out of duty to his late brother.

The festivities, however, bring back two personalities that threaten to unsettle things, in different ways: Alma Garret (Molly Parker), the steely heiress with whom Bullock exchanged smoldering looks, and then more; and robber baron George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), whose ascent into Congress as a senator from California hasn’t quelled his appetite to use Deadwood to further enhance his fortune.

As usual, it takes a little time to get reacclimated to Milch’s dense period language, and the poetry found within lines of dialogue like the need to exhibit grace, “no matter the provocation by lesser or evil men.”

The pleasures of those scenes as performed by this cast nevertheless remain abundant, and the simple nature of the central plot provides plenty of time to bask in the smaller moments, from a drunk-as-usual Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert) to Trixie (Paula Malcomson) delivering an expletive-laden tirade that prompts her friend Charlie (Dayton Callie) to admiringly say, “Time can’t touch that.” No indeed.

Granted, “Deadwood” would have surely been better served by a fourth season to wrap up the story at the time. The high cost of the show prompted HBO to propose reducing the number of episodes, and Milch — feeling unappreciated — opted to pull the plug rather than accept that perceived indignity.

Still, from Seth and Alma’s longing stares to Swearengen’s unmatched vulgarity (when it comes to cussing, McShane gives Samuel L. Jackson a Hall of Fame-worthy run for his money), “Deadwood” remains a place well worth visiting.

If the drama was somewhat better — or at least more urgent — in the rough-and-tumble days when South Dakota was a mere territory, in terms of the movie providing an excuse to wade back into the muck, this truly is a case of better late than never.

“Deadwood: The Movie” premieres May 31 at 8 p.m. on HBO. Like CNN, HBO is a unit of WarnerMedia.

This content was republished with permission from CNN.

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