The long-awaited follow-up to David Milch’s acclaimed western series premieres May 31 on HBO.
The first wave of reviews for Deadwood: The Movie have rolled in, and the critics agree: Series creator David Milch’s long-awaited follow-up to the critically acclaimed but gone-too-soon 2004-06 HBO western is pretty dang near close to qualifying as an instant classic. Indeed, the made-for-cable film — which premieres at 8 pm ET Friday, May 31, on HBO — currently enjoys a “100% Fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.
Of course, that RT distinction might be diminished if and when some discouraging words are heard. Right now, however, these blurbs represent the overwhelmingly favorable consensus.
Mekeisha Madden Toby of Variety
“Like sipping whiskey on a lazy Sunday afternoon, Deadwood: The Movie gradually but deliberately rewards fans who have waited 13 years to find out what happened to our favorite foul-mouthed ne’er-do-wells. South Dakota’s 1889 statehood celebration reunites those who moved on from this dusty midwestern town such as Alma Garret (Molly Parker) and Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert) with those who never left. The latter includes Al Swearengen and Seth Bullock (stars Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant, who double as executive producers).
“There’s also Trixie (Paula Malcomson), Doc Cochran (Brad Dourif), Sol Star (John Hawkes) and Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie) among others all spewing beautifully crafted dialogue filled with flowery four-letter swears and gems of wisdom. None are as masterful as McShane, of course, and writer and creator David Milch wastes no time giving good old Al all the best lines… As for Olyphant, he continues to cut a figure as a bona fide and just lawman in a lawless world as Bullock. And after a six-year stint on Justified, is all the more believable.”
Ben Travers of IndieWire
“The closing line of Dvaid Milch’s Deadwood movie is one of the greatest ever written. Part epitaph, part rebuke of that very thought, the ending note to Milch’s long-awaited follow-up to an epic western cut short is every bit as enlivening, powerful, and [expletive deleted] final as fans could want… Unlike other revivals, the Deadwood movie is not a continuation; it’s wise enough to acknowledge an ending when it’s arrived and Milch allows his characters to prepare for it accordingly.
“But that doesn’t mean they have to like it. There’s something to be said for not going quietly into that good night, and Deadwood rages as ferociously and purposefully as ever — never flailing about for show, or succumbing to the wishes of those who will live on after they’re gone. These characters, this film, and David Milch himself are here to honor the time they had by adding a brilliant final chapter in the here and now. This is not a passive, somber goodbye, but an active preservation.”
Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter
“As unlikely a prospect as it may have seemed for more than a decade, Deadwood: The Movie has materialized as an actual thing that exists and will air on your TV on May 31. Over the course of its 110 minutes, audience reactions are likely to sway from general incredulity (that it’s real at all) to gratitude (that it still feels like Deadwood) to contentment (that the all-time classic drama finally has a real end). I don't think Deadwood: The Movie is a great movie in its own right or even a great episode of Deadwood, but it's satisfying, and given what was required, that's enough…
“Even if you come into Deadwood: The Movie not knowing about Milch's Alzheimer's diagnosis, it’s hard to miss the poignancy that runs throughout, sometimes laced with pleasure at returning to these characters and this space, which has been re-created flawlessly. The past is, at all times, near the surface, sometimes in the form of flashbacks that make your recent Deadwood rewatch redundant and sometimes just in the interactions of characters who maybe haven't seen one another in a decade and whose memories aren't always perfect. In this sense I truly don't know whether it’s a choice that within the text of the movie, you never get the impression that life continued in Deadwood after the previous finale. Normally in circumstances like this I prefer the sensation that the characters have existed without my watching, but here they're all bonded by events that took place a decade earlier, and rarely affected by anything that happened in the interim. This could be a play on the theme of memory and how people hold onto threads from the past at the expense of their present-day stability.”
Allison Keene of Collider
“Deadwood: The Movie has the Herculean task of reintroducing us to so many familiar characters without boiling things down to a parade of cameos or having the feeling of a clip show. It does take the movie a little while to settle into its Shakespeare-in-the-Mud cadence, and even still, not all of the actors make the speech flow as easily as they once did (although when it all comes together it’s outstanding; there are few things are bizarrely delightful as Trixie describing herself as “a whore of my vintage”). There’s also a strange sense of the world being out of time, as if things have more or less stood still in these ten intervening years, and yet, that doesn’t feel of great importance. The characters are where we left them, and the movie’s primary purpose, it seems clear, is to wrap things up more than it was able to do at the close of Season 3. In that it succeeds
“If there is a major complaint to be had, though, it’s in how many tantalizing hints of additional story there are in Milch’s script. There is a sense of finality in some ways, and in others, a deep desire to see the story explored further through a full season. As such, there are parts of the movie that feel hinted at but largely incomplete, even though there are satisfying micro-arcs and two major resolutions that feel like a proper farewell. Ultimately, the Deadwood movie’s structure mirrors the events of its own story: it’s a celebration, a coming together of old friends, a facing down of the past and personal demons, and an acceptance of a new way forward. The denizens of Deadwood live on, even though their story ends here for us.”
By the way: If you want to know more about David Milch’s battle with Alzheimer’s — and his triumphant return to Deadwood — we recommend reading TV historian Matt Zoller Seitz’s sensitive and insightful article for Vulture.