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'Godless' Is Your Typical Western and So Much More
November 22, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 4 comments
 
 
Netflix’s new Godless cherishes the DNA of the classic epic Western.

Godless, all of whose episodes become available Wednesday on the streaming service, takes the traditional Western mission of exploring themes more cosmic than the specific story at hand very seriously.

It does this over some seven hours, which is the only place it significantly breaks from Western tradition. Godless ambles, it doesn’t gallop.

Jack O’Connell (top) stars as Roy Goode, who grew up in the notorious Griffin Gang as the favored protégé of Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels, left).

Frank has long had things pretty much his way in the semi-civilized Old West – including New Mexico, where the show is set. Santa Fe Marshal John Cook (Sam Waterston, below) has been following his trail, and there’s this newspaper fellow A.T. Grigg (Jeremy Bobb) who’s dying to tell his story, but in general, Frank and his boys rob and kill without too much concern that anyone is going to stop them.

Our story begins right after Roy decided he’d had enough of Griffin Gang life and re-stole Frank’s loot from a heist.

Needless to say, Frank didn’t take kindly to this. The irony wasn’t lost on him that Roy pulled his job using skills he had honed under Frank.

As Roy’s story and the show’s title suggest, redemption quickly becomes a central quest and question in Godless. Nor are Roy and Frank the only players.

Scoot McNairy plays Bill McNue, the somewhat tired sheriff of La Belle, the town where Roy ended up as he fled the Griffin Gang.

Bill still hasn’t gotten over the death of his wife, Anna, who was just 26 and left him a daughter with whom he’s having a hard time connecting.

He feels guilty about that. He also feels guilty that he’s more and more drawn to the widow Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery, right), who has one of the most valuable assets in town: about 50 horses

Alice has issues, too. Her own husband was killed, and her faith in humanity is less than strong.

Humanity runs scarce in La Belle. Not because there aren’t decent people, but because most of the men in town were killed in an accident at the town mine, which was the primary local employer right up until the accident killed 83 of its workers.

The remnants of the town now have a bigger problem, which is that the Griffin Gang is headed their way to exact revenge on Roy Goode and presumably anyone else who deliberately or accidentally gets in the way.

That will very likely include Alice, whose ranch Roy initially approached with results he neither expected nor especially enjoyed.

The impending showdown and its fallout form the core of the ongoing story in Godless.

It’s solid stuff, well-drawn, and well-acted. It also moves slowly. The lineup itself gets revealed at a deliberate pace, with a lot more talk than action.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, particularly since we know there’s action ahead. But viewers who have grown up on Westerns will see more details than they expect, or perhaps they think they need, since those extra five hours mean that creators Scott Frank and Steven Soderbergh don’t have to follow all the traditions of Western shorthand.

They can spend longer on scenes. They can add character details. They can dwell a little more on the bigger metaphoric issues like redemption.

There’s still an action-adventure at the core of Godless. The rest of the package just demands a little more attention than an old-school horse opera.

 
 
 
 
 
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4 Comments
 
 
JonC
Binged the whole series, and was very impressed. Acting and story are superb. Looks great, and found the pacing to be hypnotic, not slow at all. Your patience will be rewarded, as it spends time over character and story details that, to me, we completely paid off. The Western has been faithfully restored with a classic. Very, very well done.
Nov 29, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
JohnT
WOW! Talk About Spoilers!!! let us watch and be drawn into the stories as they unfold...no need to give every bit of background!!!
Nov 28, 2017   |  Reply
 
Angela
Agreed. Not sure what happened there.
Dec 10, 2017
 
 
 
Michael F
Watched the first three episodes last night and am thoroughly enjoying this. Yes, the pace is a little slow but this gives the writer(s) a chance to add some depth to characters that might otherwise come off as typical western stereotypes.
Nov 26, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Angela
I watched the trailer for, 'Godless' last night and couldn't figure out what to make of it. So I'm happy to hear it gets a thumbs up!
Nov 23, 2017   |  Reply
 
Angela
Just had to follow up. Finally, a western I wanted to see after having seen Deadwood. I'm a sucker for character depth so this was perfect for me. And the New Mexico scenery is gorgeous. I thought the slow pace allowed one to really imagine what it would be like to be a cowboy riding a horse across the country. And I adored Merritt Wever (Zoe in Nurse Jackie, Into the Wild) who plays a lesbian sharp shooter who looks after everyone in the town. Enjoy!
Dec 10, 2017
 
 
 
 
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