thu 25/04/2024

Godless, Netflix review – a proper wild west ride | reviews, news & interviews

Godless, Netflix review – a proper wild west ride

Godless, Netflix review – a proper wild west ride

An excellent cast and engaging story make Godless far more than standard Western fare

Jeff Daniels takes a terrifying turn as Frank GriffinUrsula Coyote/Netflix

There’s a storm heading to La Belle, the small forgotten town in the heart of the American West. As black clouds flash above the prairie, the injured body of Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) falls at the door of widowed rancher Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery). After adding one more wound to his collection, she takes in the stranger and helps him heal.  

Alice isn’t the only widow; everyone in town carries the weight of loss. Sheriff McNue is one of the only men not killed in a mining accident, but he passes like a ghost through the town, mourning his wife and failing sight. With news that Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) and his band of outlaws are heading toward La Belle on the heels of former protégé Goode, the Sheriff sees one last shot at redemption.

It’s testament to Netflix’s quality and dominance that a drama like Godless can be released with relatively little fanfare. No other broadcaster comes close to their sheer scale of output – in the last month there’s been Stranger Things 2, Marvel’s The Punisher, David Fincher’s Mindhunter and Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace. These shows haven’t stopped Netflix compiling a Hollywood team and cast for Godless; the series is written and directed by Logan screenwriter Scott Frank, and produced by master of entertainment Stephen Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Erin Brokovich, sex, lies and videotape).

After Westworld, it’s almost impossible to watch any western without thinking of one of Anthony Hopkins’s narratives. Godless certainly doesn’t do much to subvert genre clichés either; a man with a troubled past comes into town, chased by a cultish group of outlaws after a heist went bad – chuck in James Marsden and mentions of Wyatt, you’re practically back in the park. But then, westerns were never about pushing boundaries - they were about entertainment, and Godless has that in abundance.

The scale of the show is huge. These aren’t store fronts filmed on a closed set, but buildings growing out of the vast wilderness. The landscape imposes down onto its inhabitants, sandy winds cutting across their faces as they leave home.Jack O'Connell and Michelle Dockery in GodlessThe characters also feel like they’re grown from the ground up. They fulfil familiar genre roles, but they’re more than stereotypes; each carries a history which continues to shape who they are. In particular, Merritt Wever makes the most of her screen time to create the dogged Mary Agnes, using her husband’s death to ditch expected femininity.

Also worth noting is Jeff Daniels’ Griffin, a terrifying yet electrifying presence. Like all great screen villains, his smile and charm are betrayed by menace in his eyes. In every scene, he spouts scripture and prophecy like the devil himself; a truly inspired piece of casting.

If there’s one complaint: the trailer for Godless implied a much more feminist take on the genre. The focus was on the women of the town, free to fend for themselves after the mining accident. In the first two episodes, this story sits in the background to Roy Goode and Sheriff McNue’s engaging but well-trodden plots. It seems a shame to come up with a genuinely fresh approach to the western and not explore that fully. However, episodes clock in at well over an hour each, so there’s plenty more time to take Godless from excellence to masterpiece.


In every scene, Jeff Daniels spouts scripture and prophecy like the devil himself; a truly inspired piece of casting


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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