Godless is apparently the new shit people were talking about at my work and online a few weeks back and so I figured I would give it a shot and see what all the hype and praise was about. I was not disappointed by the premise but rather by the execution and I really wanted to enjoy this sprawling epic more than I did.
Godless follows a rather simple premise with characters that are anything but simple, and this is the true strength of this show; it's characterization and portrayal of these men and women. For me the true standouts were Bill McNue, a town sheriff that is considered a coward but in reality he's emotionally devastated and going blind rapidly. Second standout was clearly Mr. Roy Goode, the outlaw trying to amend for his sins by helping those in need particularly the family that he finds himself in care of early on. The third standout was Frank Griffin the essential villain of the piece and his performance and spiritual deviation is a marvelous look at a divivded villain who commands the screen with quiet menace and magnetism. The last standout for me was Alice, one of many female characters in this show, she's a hard ass living at the edge of town and making it on her own while raising a child. These characters elevate this show beyond the mundane task of slogging through it's other characters and occasionally frustrating side stories.
But let's talk about the other characters first. Foremost we have a character named Mary Agnes who might as well be named STRONG INDEPENDANT DYKE LESBIAN COWBOY. Because that's literally the character. She's just there to spike in some PC culture and make the men look incompetent. However, I have two reasons not to entirely hate this overhanded approach to trying to make the Old West look PC friendly. Firstly, I was actually surprised with one execution, every time Mary Agnes tried to one up a man he would spin it around and shut her down which was not something I was expecting. I expected the more "oh damn I can't possibly retort a smart woman" angle but was surprised. Secondly, I did enjoy the new look at the Old West but I'm also a sucker for immersion and it's hard to get immersed when you know shit like this was not common or tolerated in the 1800s. Other lame characters included Alice's son Truckee who has some of the WORST emotional deliveries/timing I have seen in any professional cinematic representation EVER. Louise was fine as a side character but the story between her and the deputy Whitey never goes anywhere and just sort of ends frustratingly. Also, the flashback sequences would range from either way over the top with exposition or well done with believable performances. Overall, it is just sort of a mixed bag when it comes to side plot and supporting/main characters.
If there is one thing I can find very little room to complain about it would have to be the cinematography. There were quite a few camera teams hired for this project and they all proved worth it. The vistas are stunningly captured, the action scenes easy to follow and invest in, and the use of dry color lenses and filters really captures the grainy and arid Old West that existed. Special shoutout to the camera team that shot the finale, when the dust cloud rolls in and everybody can not see two feet in front of them, it's just awesome to behold and I loved every second of it.
The action scenes on display here are all well shot too, probably some of the best shootouts in Old West cinema next to the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. bullets hit like a train, gunshots are loud as hell and surprising, blood splatters like a fountain and for the most part it's all very believable done and enjoyable to watch. Once again special shoutout has to be made for the finale, as the final shootout between Griffin's gang and the citizens of La Belle was pretty standout, special and one hell of a finale.
However... And I hate to do this but I'm going to anyway. There is a huge glaring problem with this show and it's portrayal of the Old West. I did briefly touch upon it with my dissection of the Mary Agnes character but it's a problem that overarches the whole series. The creators really want to drive home the feminist/PC appropriation thing. And this is not really that evident until the finale but it is glimpsed throughout the entire runtime. Men are mostly perceived as assholes and manipulative while the women are displayed as strong and independent while being affirmative but desperate. And considering the backstory to these characters I actually did not mind it completely but it does drag you out of the moment. Let's backtrack to the finale for a second here; every single character that dies in the finale from the intense as hell gun battle is a man. I thought it showed female characters dying but then they all walk out of the building and eventually hold a funeral and it just did not add up. And this in particular is what pissed me off the most; yes I understand these women went through hell and have been on their own for years and it's a cool story, but why did they ruin it by then tossing that vulnerability out the window? Hell they even hammer home the point that these women do not even know how to properly fire a gun or reload or anything and yet they hold off 30 infamous outlaws who have murdered hundreds and been near uncatachable for years? Look, if you're going to force in this PC friendly message and take these characters out of danger that's fine, I support diversity when it's done well but throwing them into a situation that up to that point makes no sense in them surviving you've done a problem with either pacing
or story telling.
As a whole Godless works on the strength of it's cast, with a few missteps, but it fails as an immersive story and the few misplaced characters and side ventures just suck you out of the experience and makes it hard to get back into it. Good and beautifully shot but ultimately flawed and hampered by baffling story decisions and a ham fisted message about being politically correct.