Godless review: Get Goode
Godless is an arresting and brutal depiction of the Wild West that's only failing is its limited time spent with the ladies of La Belle.
Though the genre has been thoroughly outgunned by younger audiences clamouring for superhero stories, Westerns are still timeless. Who doesn't love the magnificent backdrop of a rough-and-tumble frontier filled with drawling tough guy heroes and tabaccy-spittin' baddies? Netflix's seven-part mini-series Godless diverts from the usual template, however, with its female-driven ensemble. The end result is a refreshing take on a male-dominated genre and it's well worth saddling up for.
The nefarious Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) is an outlaw cutting a swathe of death and destruction across the 1880s' American West. His killing may be random and indiscriminate, but his need to hunt down his duplicitous ex-partner, Roy Goode (Jack O'Connell), is laser-focused. Griffin's clearly psychopathic, but he's as poetic as you please, too, describing this harsh world as “the paradise of the locust, the lizard, the snake – the land of the bleeding rifle”. The man is wrong in the head, but he's not incorrect in his appraisals. Watching Daniels playing against type is such a delight.
Roy's being targeted because he's had the audacity to turn his back on the outlaw life. Worse, he's also spurned the affections of Griffin, who, in a rare show of kindness and decency, adopted the boy and raised him to adulthood as his protege. The cat-and-mouse game that follows sustains the seven-hour runtime quite well; Roy is younger and faster, but Griffin is as spooky and relentless as Anton Chigurh. His mantra, muttered in the face of ludicrous odds – “nah, this ain't my death, I've seen it” – is quite the catchphrase by the end.
Initially, the chase for Roy looks like it'll be a short pursuit when his misadventures land him behind bars. But, when the local sheriff decides to mosey off, fate deals our runaway a fresh hand in the form of local rancher Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery). On the proviso that he does some honest ranch work, Roy is sprung by the equally stone-cold Alice and is given shelter in La Belle, New Mexico – a literal No Man's Land town made up entirely of womenfolk. Why the lack of Y-chromosomes? Several years ago, a collapse at the ol' silver mine killed off everybody's husband, and that was just the start of the town's troubles.
Recently, the ladies of La Belle have courted the interest of some unscrupulous county businessmen who hope to reopen the mine and flood the town with money and men again. The late mayor's whip-smart widow, Mary Agnes (Merritt Wever), isn't about to be conned out of a unique opportunity for economic independence, however. She's gotten quite used to wearing her dead husband's pants and sleeping with a former prostitute, thank you very much Mr. Shyster and co. Better yet, she can skin a smoke wagon quicker than anybody and is a born leader who refuses to accept the defeatist, myopic views of the other women in town.
Even if you have lukewarm feelings towards Westerns, Godless is worth a reconsider, if only because it looks so damn good on paper. You have a strong cast led by the likes of O’Connell, Daniel and Dockery. Steven Soderbergh is executive producing, and it’s written and directed by Scott Frank (whose previous works include Out of Sight, Minority Report , Get Shorty and Logan). The only real downside to the entire package are a handful of overlong scenes: indulgent meandering that skirts dangerously close to boredom. It'll make you wonder why some of the episodes needed to stretch to 70-80 minutes. Viewer mileage always varies, however.
Unhurried rhythm aside, Godless is a brutal, slickly-produced shoot 'em up revenge tale that frequently tips its ten-gallon hat to the greats of the genre. For those of you playing spaghetti Western bingo at home, prepare to tick off the likes of Rio Bravo, Shane and Lawrence Kasdan's Wyatt Earp, among others. But while the homage game is on point, it's disappointing to see Godless not capitalise on the unique narrative opportunities it has. I would have loved to have seen more time spent on the ladies of La Belle dealing with the sexism of the era – and, in a similar vein, a deeper look at the day-to-day racism levelled at the buffalo soldier settlement of Blackton. Unfortunately, the later town whips past us in the blink of an eye. These angles could have been fascinating threads in their own right, but they end up taking a backseat to the predictable old “this town ain't big enough fer the both of us” grudge of Griffin and Goode.