Casey Silver Productions/765/Flitcraft, Ltd/Netflix
Written and Directed by Scott Frank
Created by Scott Frank and Steven Soderberg
Much as I love Westerns I usually keep my eye out for any new ones either being released theatrically or on streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon. But GODLESS snuck up on me and I have to thank my wife Patricia for pulling my coat to this one. If there’s a bigger Western fan than me, it’s her. I hadn’t heard a thing about this one and one of the reasons why I write reviews is to let people know about projects like this one that might fly under the radar. Especially with the sheer number of movies and TV series that Netflix puts out, it’s easy for a limited series like GODLESS to get lost and that would be a shame because it’s well worth your binge-watching.
The premise of GODLESS is an unusual one for a Western. The mining town of La Belle, New Mexico is populated almost entirely by women due to a horrendous accident wiping out most of the men. The women are left to run the town. But even though this is the hook of the series it isn’t what it’s actually about. The female situation in La Belle provides a highly interesting setting and provides some really notable characters such as Bill McNue (Scoot McNairy) the sheriff of La Belle who is losing his sight and despairing of what will become of him and his children when he goes completely blind. His deputy Whitey Winn (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) who is a regular Two-Gun Kid with his matched set of .45’s. And Bill’s sister Mary-Agnes (Merritt Wever) the widow of the town’s mayor who has more or less stepped into that role, wearing her husband’s three-piece suits and despite what Whitey thinks, she is actually the town’s quickdraw artist.
No, the engine that drives the plot of GODLESS is the conflict between two outlaws. Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) once rode with Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) the leader of a band of thirty desperadoes who kill entire populations of frontier towns and burn them to the ground just for fun. Roy stole $50,000 from Frank after Frank stole it from a train he dynamited. Roy then went on the run, ending up working on a ranch just outside of La Belle run by Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery) along with her half-Paiute son and her mother-in-law. Frank is tearing up the countryside looking for Roy, not so much for the money but because he feels betrayed by a man he raised up and considers a son.
Roy warns both Bill and Alice that if Frank hears he’s in La Belle he’ll come and slaughter everybody. But Bill doesn’t intend for that to happen as his plan is to team up with the legendary U. S. Marshal John Cook (Sam Waterston) and hunt down Frank and his gang. Meanwhile, the women of La Belle have to contend with the Quicksilver Mining Company looking to take over their mine by means of their chief enforcer Ed Logan (Kim Coates). Due to their being no men in the town Logan figures that it’ll be easy to take over. To say that he underestimates these women is putting it mildly.
If you only know Jeff Daniels from his comedic roles then you’ll be positively scared witless by his performance in GODLESS. Frank Griffin is a character that might have stepped right out the pages of Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian.” He’s a character who carries within him the capacity for apocalyptic violence and tremendous compassion. The problem is that you never know when or where the violence or the compassion will be ascendant. The series is worth watching just for Jeff Daniels as when he’s on screen you’re never sure what he’s going to do next.
The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking and many of the scenes are truly gorgeous to behold, including one where Frank’s gang ride across a river and cascading drops of water sparkle like diamonds. The flashbacks to the mine accident and a brutal slaughter of a wagon train are bloody and frightening but at the same time they’re shot in such a way that it’s quite beautiful. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Western without shots of vast plains and towering, snowcapped mountains.
In short, GODLESS is excellent entertainment worth your time. I honestly can’t point to a bad performance and while the pacing is a bit slow, that seems to be the norm for dramas these days. So yeah, the story takes it’s time to get up to speed but once it does, it truly does get going. GODLESS is currently streaming on Netflix and if you’re looking for something to binge watch this holiday weekend, I solidly recommend it. Enjoy.