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Don't get me wrong, there have been great westerns to come before
Deadwood, but none of them really got it right. There is just a reality
that some people aren't willing to deal that after 50 years of our
history being whitewashed through film and TV, we're finally starting
to see the truth. David Milch has done his research and discovered the
wonderfully bizarre contradiction of languages used in the old west.
Watching the cast of Deadwood converse with a combination of old world
English laced with profanity straight from the gutter is incredible and
feels right for the first time. Where do people think our language came
from? People always want to think that they were the first to do
something, when things like profanity, substance abuse and prostitution
have been around since before man walked erect.
Along with the incredible dialog and storytelling, David Milch has introduced possibly the greatest character to ever come to TV or film...Al Swearengen. Ian McShane plays Al with the same intense conviction and truth that the character himself lives by. In Al's world things are black and white and never apologizes for a second for living his life by a strict code of morals of his own making. I don't think we've ever seen a character go from crying after a mercy killing to watching a murder he orchestrated stone faced.
This is indeed a special show that is continuing to pave the way for the facts of our history to finally be told with truth...Instead of the whitewashing we've seen our whole lives to make us feel better about ourselves.
I felt I needed to write after reading the comment made of the show. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but the individual the wrote the comment "Falls Short" does not know anything. I live in Deadwood and with the exception of stuff added by Hollywood to quicken the story it is quite close to our history. None of the characters are fictional, the all lived at one time. I admit the show in vulgar but cleans up as the show continues and the town grows from a miner's camp to a town. Don't let the first few episodes scare you off. The show is very good and quite close to the truth. If you like old west history you will love Deadwood.
Ian McShane as the evil Al has established himself as one of the greatest actors of the moment and of the time. He's up there with Pacino, DeNiro and Keitel. The magnificent writing and directing of Deadwood support him completely in mesmerizing the audience. This is for my money the finest work being done on television today. The show has a sure moral compass and a daring to take the violence to the level of Shakespeare or the Greek Tragedy while maintaining verisimilitude with brilliant dialogue and perfect art and set direction, as well as a flawless supporting cast each of whom engages us immediately and convincingly no matter how intimate or distant the focus might be. I can't get enough of this show. I want to see it all in reruns, to cherish it later on DVD. Each episode is fresh and surprising and at times astonishing. But Ian McShane steals the show, no question of it. His face is profoundly expressive and his lines are so marvelous that some of them surely must be ad lib. The guy's a scoundrel but my heart's breaking for him. The Season Finale was the single greatest television drama I've ever seen. We have here a villain who isn't morally bankrupt. And thank heaven, we have a show runner and a writer who isn't morally bankrupt either. Bravo!! I've run out of superlatives. Please, more. And more. And more.
Judging by other comments, the realistic portrayal of the crude
language and immorality may be a bit too much for those used to tame,
glossy horse operas where the Good are very, very good and the Bad are
very, very bad.
As for the language being "over the top," anyone who's spent time in an Army unit or aboard ship in wartime knows this is EXACTLY the kind of language young men under stress use, and probably even worse back in the late eighteenth century when most of them were uneducated, illiterate and had a projected life span of around 30. If they were lucky.
Most people familiar with authentic Western history will recognize this as a very accurate portrayal of Deadwood, or any other frontier boom town, with all its ugliness and warts. Like it or not, it's history. I think they did a superlative job so far (first two episodes).It also looks like it's going to be the most accurate version of Bill Hickock's death -- which was far more than just the simple barroom murder usually portrayed -- ever put on film.
The number of truly spectacular actors here is simply staggering. Ian McShane's riveting performance is no surprise for "Lovejoy" fans; he was long overdue for something equal to his talent. Who else stands out? Damn near everyone. Calamity Jane, Tolliver, Farnum, the Doc ... there aren't enough "supporting actor" awards from any source that could do justice to such a large, stand-out cast. For those of us who despair of the putrid crap in the theaters, peopled by actors who should be doing dinner theater in Dubuque, well... now we have hope. And DEADWOOD truly puts the lie to the propaganda about public broadcasting being necessary to provide "quality programming that commercial television just can't or won't do." In the entire history of public radio and TV they have NEVER reached this level of excellence even once -- yet cable (once referred to disparagingly as 'pay TV') pulls it off on a shoestring budget. Score one for capitalism.
If you want to experience the real old west first hand, look no
further; you'll find it in 'Deadwood'. There has never been a show or a
film that came as close to showing what life must have been like in
those lawless young towns that got built nearly over night wherever
gold was found. A magnet for all kind of fortune seekers (gold diggers,
whores, outlaws but also settlers who were just hoping to build a
better life), the town of Deadwood was notorious even by the standards
of the time. In the show, this "cesspool of vice" is brought back to
life with great attention to historical detail. You'll find no
romanticised view of pioneers who lived and died by "the code of
honour", but real people whose moral standards are in most cases
murky at best. And the world they inhabit is a rough, dirty, violent
place where only the fiercest and the most cunning survive.
As far as the historical characters depicted in the show are concerned, the writers naturally had to take some liberties (after all, nobody knows exactly who said or did what at the time), but the depiction of the era and the historical background are very accurate. Yet this is not a history lesson; it's an immensely entertaining western-show blessed with some of the best writers and actors working in television and film today and especially the cast of 'Deadwood' really can't get enough praise: there is not a single performance here that isn't excellent. Of course, the one who steals the show is Ian McShane. His Al Swearengen is one of the most morally complex and fun-to-watch characters I've ever seen (and he misses absolutely no opportunity to show you just what the first five letters in "SWEAR-engen" stand for). The power-struggles in Deadwood he is involved in and since he wants to maintain his position at the top of the food-chain he's involved in all of them are equalled in complexity and entertainment value only by those in top-notch shows like 'Game of Thrones', 'House of Cards' or 'Breaking Bad'. And the lengths Al is willing to go to achieve his goals secure him a place in the top ten of "all-time great bad-asses".
So my verdict: While certainly not for the easily offended or those who prefer a "sanitized version" of the old west, 'Deadwood' offers a fascinating look at a time we mostly know from myths and legends and gives us a chance to revisit those and see them from a different angle. Great, intelligent and informative entertainment. 9 stars out of 10.
Favorite films: http://www.IMDb.com/list/mkjOKvqlSBs/
Lesser-known Masterpieces: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls070242495/
Favorite Low-Budget and B-movies: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls054808375/
Favorite TV-Shows reviewed: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls075552387/
This is a stunning achievement. Performance, writing, direction, casting, design, everything about it is of the highest quality. It seems so obvious and in your face at first with little in the way of compelling traditional story (ie each episode has a 'plot') but every layer has another layer beneath and they all build into an amazing portrait of this moment in time. (real or fictional it makes no difference to me) For all the apparent lawlessness and depravity on display it is about love and responsibility being forged against the most brutal of times. Ian McShane is a stunning revelation and Timothy Olyphant is superb as the calm fury at the centre of the storm. Cannot praise it highly enough. Better than Sopranos - and that's saying something.
Absolutely superb. I don't think I've ever given anything a 10/10 before, but for a TV show, Deadwood is excellent - and given the crap we're generally subjected to on the box, absolutely outstanding. The sets, the research, the directing, the characters, the acting - all shine. And without wanting to sound gushy, the script is close to Shakespearian in its prosaic yet pragmatic tone. The juxtaposition of the grit and dirt and blood of the real 'Wild West' with formal Victorian language is genius. Even the opening credits are beautiful. It may not be everyone's cup of tea (the language and content can be a little 'strong' although entirely appropriate and in context) but anyone who's a fan of quality entertainment, shouldn't go past it.
This stands out for me as one of the best series I have ever seen hit
the small screen. The attention to detail,story and character is second
to none. Deadwood is brought to life by the good, the bad and the very
ugly- with some of the most wonderfully theatrically profane, but
ultra-realistic dialogue of any western. True, you could question some
of the dialogue for exactly how accurate it is to the time it is set-
but it sounds absolutely convincing in the world they have managed to
build. Lets face it- not too many Westerns even bothered all that much
in the first place! The 3 series have impeccable standards of
production, weaving some of the real historical events of the time into
a fictional Old West testament. The degradation, ill manners, costumes,
dirt, mud and profanities are all present and accounted for.
Aside from the "real" characters we know of from Deadwood (Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and even the Sheriff Bullock), we have some of the most unsavoury villains of the time as well.
The various stories, historical events and personal issues of the characters interweave with no discernible template or pattern to formalise the show. The only thing that is certain in the old West is that where the desire for excess, fortune and greed are combined, human nature will see to the rest.
Stand out performances are plentiful in this series- but Ian McShane is incredible, a true tour-de-force, a foul-mouthed, back-stabbing bad ass villain- who manages to humanise a repellent character in Al Swearengen.
As the series wore on, the writers broadened his character and nature a little more so it was unavoidable but to side with him- even agree with his nastiest ideas.
This was not a compromise or sell-out of the principally dark natured and notoriously ill-tempered brothel owner! "Sparks" of humanity seem to have warmed his character, particularly from his confrontations with the flint-like moral code & core of Sheriff Bullock (Timothy Olyphant). However, even Bullocks is prone to questionable actions, as he wrestles with his own conscience to resolve things in a "civil" way, or resort to a pistol-whipping to get the job done.
If you have never seen this- look out for repeats or go buy the box sets and enjoy the best Western experience ever made. My only regret is that its all over after 3 series (apart from a couple of 2 hour specials they plan to make to round it off.) Short but ever so sweet!!
Though i never considered myself a western fan, i realize i've seen a good many, from the Anthony Mann masterpieces, to Leone's revolutionary films, to more recent flicks like Unforgiven. But none has moved me like Deadwood. While the series did have some ups and downs (like life itself), it is truly enchanting. The season finale alone is one of the most moving things i've seen on TV, and having rewatched it many times (the joy of tivo) i still find myself driven to tears. The dialog is fantastic, bordering on Shakespearean at times as others have pointed out. Its a shame that so many seem to be bothered by the language, perhaps i am just overly jaded. Remember though that profanity at that time was predominantly based on religion (or rather defiance of such). These days of course, hellfire and tarnation don't have quite the same effect. If the dialog were more "period", i imagine it would be like watching yosemite sam cast as swearengen (heaven forbid). In their translations of Kurasawa movies, Critereon has faced the same issues, and i agree with their and David Milch's choice. Stay true to the meaning and feeling, more than the literal. Especially with profanity, this is key. Profanity's entire purpose is to offend, and if it becomes through age or paradigm shift inoffensive, it loses all meaning and effectiveness. It helps bring us into the world of deadwood, and better understand and relate to the characters who live there. Which, IMHO, is a wondrous thing to experience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
First off, the Western is my favorite film genre, however "Deadwood"
transcends that genre so completely that it seems like a new one
altogether. If you can, try to get your hands on the Season I DVD set
with the special features disc. I was surprised to learn that many of
the main and supporting characters beyond Wild Bill and Calamity were
in fact also based on real life people. Al Swearengen ran an operation
that took in between four and six thousand dollars a night, while other
notables with a true history include Doc Cochran and the Reverend Henry
Smith. Though the story playing out in the series is often a product of
creator David Milch's 'imaginative reality', that in no way lessens
it's impact as a narrative of the Dakotas and it's overly rich history
of villainy, debauchery and profanity.
Deadwood itself grew from a small mining camp to ten thousand inhabitants in a dizzying matter of three months in 1873. Word of a substantial ore find literally led to the phrase 'there's gold in them thar hills', creating an endless stream of immigrants to the Badlands. The territory itself was relegated to the Sioux Indians, and the U.S. Government was supposed to keep settlers out. But as everyone knows, money talks.
With a series so rich in characters and story lines, it's hard to pick a favorite. Backed against the wall I'd have to pick Brad Dourif's portrayal as Doc Cochran as my own choice, but that's today. Individual episodes offer stunning performances by William Sanderson as E.B. Farnum and Robin Weigert as Calamity Jane. Of course, series stars Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane have rewritten the rule book for Western heroes and villains with their portrayals. It's too bad Keith Carradine couldn't hang around more than four episodes as Wild Bill Hickok, but he drew those darn aces and eights in Deadwood.
Not for the squeamish or faint of heart, "Deadwood" remains true to the gritty origins in the mud, blood, manure and urine of it's namesake. Prepare to be shocked, terrified and at times even amused, but most of all, watch "Deadwood" to experience one of the most unique television events ever created.
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