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Sunday, 31 December 2017

Godless spoilerless review- a fine western a'streaming now

That kid who played Paul McCartney in the Lennon bio-pic, Nowhere Boy plays a Billy the Kid type role as Whitey Winn, that guy who played dumber alongside Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber gives us the most memorable and complex western bad guy in recent years with his finely honed performance as Frank Griffin, that woman from Downtown Abbey gives us a much more grounded character than the aristocratic lady which shot her to fame, and that handsome guy who is not George Clooney from Money Monster is the good bad guy, Roy Good. Curious casting maybe, (in fact with the exception of Jeff Daniels the lead actors are all Brits)  but Godless from streaming service, Netflix is the finest small screen western since Lonesome Dove. I kid you not, it is that good - expect it to be rewarded highly when award season comes around.

 Written and directed by Scott Frank the production shows a fondness for Leone type tracking shots, Ford'ian cinematography, Tarantino'esque violence and most importantly storytelling of the finest kind. The script was originally intended as a movie but Netflix were on a spending spree and asked Frank to flush out the story for a limited TV mini-series and we should be thankful for this - split over seven episodes, all of them longer than a hour and some of them a mini movie in themselves, gives a larger canvas to work with. And not a second of this time is wasted with each and every character flushed out. Of course we have all the stock western characters - the good time girls, the crusading newspaperman, the noble sheriff. They're all present and correct but the world in which they operate seems very real indeed.

When I first saw the trailer I feared it was another of those all too common shows with correctness as the driving force - the trailer seemed to suggest it was a western about a town populated solely by women and their fight to survive in the harsh environment, and whilst the  town of La Belle is important to the story, Godless is really driven by the promise of an inevitable showdown between Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) and Roy Good (Jack O' Connell).  Of course the all female town is an interesting twist to the standard western story and the origin of this town is explained logically within the story - La Belle is a mining town, a small town in which each of the residents has a stake in the mine and a disaster one day takes out virtually the entire male population. This makes the town interesting to a swindling mining corporation and this is just one of the story threads running through the rich tapestry that is Godless.

The relationships between Frank Griffin and Roy Good is presented in flashbacks alongside the main thrust of the story, and it's all the better for it. After the first episode we view Frank Griffin as a man without a soul, pure evil itself but a couple of episodes in and we see he is much more than a pantomime villain,. In fact in his own mind he's not evil at all, and although he does much during the run of the show that would put the devil to shame, he does a lot of good also. It's a wonderful performance by Jeff Daniels. Likewise Roy Good (Jack O'Connell) who has a father/son, Love/hate relationship with Griffin gives a pitch perfect performance.

'Ain't nothing scarier than a man with a gun. Ain't nothing more helpless than a man without one.' Frank Griffin.

Other notable characters are Whitey Winn, the fast shooting deputy whose lanky frame and amiable manner brings to mind a young James Stewart, the lesbian Mary Agnus played by the always wonderful,  Merritt Weaver who steals every scene she's in and a passel of well rounded townsfolk, gunmen and plain old ordinary old west citizens.

All in all this is an excellent show and all 7 episodes are available to stream over on Netflix right now. I'm a western lover and I rate this show as better than the recent Hell on Wheels, hell to my mind it even bests the wonderful Deadwood. Godless then is a true classic of the genre with a soundtrack that equals those old Morricone scores. And that final operatic shoot out - well without spoilers all I can say is that it is an absolute masterclass in action film - virtually the entire town are involved and the women folk of La Belle prove that they are every bit as deadly as the hardened men who would do them harm.

'I seen my death. This ain't it.' Frank Griffin.

In the final summery - FUCKING BRILLIANT

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