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4.6 out of 5 stars172
4.6 out of 5 stars
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The story of Hell on Wheels follows the former Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannan (Anson Mount), who finds work on the railroad whilst tracking down the Union soldiers responsible for the murder of his wife and child. Cullen was fighting the war while his family remained on the farm (reminiscent of the Gladiator). Immediately, bam, you have our anti-hero Cullen executing one his targets, and it just continues from there.

Hell on Wheels is actually the name of the makeshift town. Out here in the wild West there are Indians, priests, villans, ex-soldiers, whores, and everything in between. Cullen is up against the Swede who enforces the railroads law, and takes a cut for himself on the side. Canadian actor Christopher Heyerdahl who plays the Swede, is stand out brilliant.

This is one hell of a good show. If you enjoy action, violence, great characters, and a gripping story line, then watch this. This is almost as good as Sons of Anarchy - Season 1 [DVD], Dexter : Complete Season 1 [DVD], and Game of Thrones - Season 1 [DVD].

The show is made by AMC in the US and they have decided to make Season 2. Fantastic.
22 comments69 of 73 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 10 July 2013
Great acting from thr three male leads sets this series apart. The premise is interesting and I loved the unpredictability of the storylines and the grittiness of the subject treatment. The hero is a delight. good looking enough to make female hearts flutter and macho enough to keep the men engaged. Lots of violence and themes of slavery and the mistreatment of the Native American population add interest and depth to the subject and the narrative. As always there are irritants such as the slightly daffy female lead and the preacher character but they are minor flaws in an otherwise strong raft of characters. We loved it and will be buying the next series - can't say better than that.
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Hell on Wheels isn't another Deadwood - despite being set against the building of the Union Pacific railroad, the scale is less epic, the cast of characters less eclectic and the dialogue less elaborate - but is a very much more conventional oater. It's probably the fact that it plays so safe and predictable that's why it's now into its fourth season when Deadwood could only manage three. It doesn't exhilarate or surprise, but it is an undemanding and easy watch.

It starts out as a revenge western where the trail leads to Hell on Wheels, the moving construction camp of the Union Pacific Railroad uniting the east and west coasts. Sold to the public as a project that will help heal the nation after a war that has left it a gaping open wound but naturally a scheme for various profiteers to get rich, Colm Meaney's ruthless railroad baron, bribing, blackmailing and bullying his way along the least direct and most profitable route the dominant figure even though Anson mount's vengeful veteran actually takes centre stage and Christopher Heyerdahl's towering Swede ("Actually I'm Norwegian"), a former bookkeeper who looks like Karloff's Frankenstein and now practises a form of immoral mathematics as the head of security on the railroad, makes the biggest impression. Racial divisions between the black and Irish workers and potential conflict with the local Indians constantly flare up along the way and there's a wide cast of supporting characters - Dominique McElligott's widow who holds the secret to the elusive pass between the Rockies that the railway depends on, Tom Noonan's preacher (who thankfully doesn't turn out to be an evil hypocrite despite his flaws), Common's ex-slave, Robin McLeavy's former hostage of an Indian tribe turned prostitute, a pair of Irish magic lantern showmen, the odd crooked politician and Wes Studi's local chief who just wants things to stay the same among them. As with co-producer David Von Ancken's barely released but much more compelling Seraphim Falls [Blu-ray] (some of whose cast turn up here) there's a religious undercurrent about forgiveness and damnation there as well.

So, plenty of opportunity for drama and interesting character arcs, yet too often the series just ambles along without much sense of purpose: the revenge quest is forgotten for much of the run, issues and obstacles are raised and dealt with with surprisingly little drama and even Meaney's schemes are fairly ordinary despite the promising monologue he's given in the first episode that has him seeing himself in almost Shakespearean terms. Similarly the budgetary limitations haven't been met with much imagination. Hell on Wheels itself is an underwhelming and underpopulated sight, the working on the railroad mostly limited to one team to save on extras, so anyone expecting the simplistic plotting to at least be offset by the kind of meticulously detailed and ramshackle design of Deadwood is likely to be disappointed. It's a show that puts on a show of grown up attitudes and has occasional flashes of ambition but isn't really going anywhere or doing it with enough power or panache to stand out. Not that it's bad, more that it's solid and efficient but tends to amble when it should gallop. Set your expectations low and don't expect any surprises, and it's a decent Western series in an era when Westerns are few and far between.

Entertainment One's Region A-locked US Blu-ray offers impressive widescreen transfers of all ten episodes with 26 brief featurettes as extras.
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on 9 September 2013
Not knowing what to expect I thought I`d take a look at this series. I`m glad I did, I thought it was a first class western, it seems authentic as to how I would imagine post civil war America would be, it`s gritty, violent & an excellent cast who play their characters without fault. Very watchable & highly recommended. I will buy the second series.
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A Confederate soldier comes to the small town of Hell On Wheels just after the American Civil War ends looking for the man who killed his wife and others arrive looking to seek their fortune and to work on the railroad which is just starting to be built. A look at the history of the American railroad with a mix of different characters. It's trying hard to be the new Deadwood and while not quite in the same league it doesn't quite get there but is still one of the most criminally underrated shows on TV at the moment, hidden away on TCM in the UK. A very good cast lead by Anson Mount as the soldier and former slave owner Cullen Bohannan looking for revenge with Common as a former slave working on the railroad and Colm Meaney from Star Trek The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine as the railroad owner Durrant. Some likeable and despicable characters all trying to make a living in the Wild West along with fears of Indian attacks.
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American TV continues its run of quality series with this Western set in post Civil War America. There is a sense of the familiar in the way the episodes are put together, using the editing and music stylistic choices that have worked well in other quality TV series, but satisfyingly there is also a sense of something new, in the setting and the characters. The setting is a gritty - well no, lets make that muddy, settlement which houses the workers on the railroad, and moves from time to time to stay where the work is - hence the title. Into this town of ex slaves, immigrants, criminals and whores, comes an ex-Confederate soldier, on the trail of Union soldiers who murdered his wife. However the pleasure in the series isn't this slim character arc, but rather getting to know the range of characters who subvert the usual clichéd expectations in Western - yes, we get the hooker with a heart of gold - but her history is an unexpected one, and yes, we get the lone preacher trying to convert the wretched hive of scum and villainy - but his character is also not as we at first expect. Even Colm Meaney's magnificent railroad baron is a treat, as he defies expectations and manipulates (and occasionally is manipulated) those around him. The head of security is a fantastic creation - The Swede, and then there is Common, playing the ex slave, and Dominique McElligott as the Englishwoman who supplies the beauty against the range of beasts on display. They're all well drawn and well acted characters, which makes this an eminently watchable series.
I had the same view as others as I watched this, that it was good to have a Deadwood Ultimate Collection Seasons 1-3 [DVD] substitute back on screen - but in fact it's kind of unfair to compare the two. The settings are quite different, though both maximise the drama by using a very distinct geographically bounded area to set their scene. They are both down and dirty and show humanity at more lows than highs, but I would suggest there is a hint more optimism here, even if we still have the violence and cursing and whoring. I am not an expert on the period, but the railroad crews are an interesting point of view to peek into this period of history and convinces as to its authenticity thanks in large part to its utterly committed cast. I for one am looking forward to the next series...
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on 2 January 2015
Hell on Wheels is not as ambitious as Deadwood, but then it doesn't need to be.

Where Deadwood had brutal anti-heroes, dialogue so complex it needed subtitles, and plot which confined itself tightly within historical boundaries, HOW treads a fine line between history and myth, while having a lot of fun in between. It serves up gunfights, whiskey, ambition, gorgeous photography; and themes which owe more to Western genre than social realism of shows like The Wire. Whether or not you enjoy it depends on which side you butter your toast. If you like meticulous attention to period detail and drama shot through with relevant, weighty, issues- you might find this somewhat lacking. If on the other hand, you enjoy shows that put their audience first and are more concerned with dripping atmosphere, and spinning a good yarn- this is definitely for you. If only because of the hats.
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1865. After the war that tore North and South apart, can the proposed East-West railroad help solve the country's wounds? A journey that would have taken six months would be achieved in just eight days - a fact surely to draw all closer together?

Depicted here is the start of an enterprise many declared impossible. Converging to try make it succeed are disparate people traumatized by years of conflict, many still with scores to settle. Former military men, those from the losing side especially with a grudge; freed slaves now less disposed to accept orders; scheming politicians; racketeers; Irish immigrants. All the ingredients are here for an ever bubbling brew. Then, of course, comes increasing threat from Indians - their land is sacred, not to be invaded.

Powerful and raw, the series aims uncompromisingly to depict how conditions were. All the characters are flawed, several extremely dislikeable. Understanding grows when we learn of devastating events in their past that made them as they now are. Relationships are complicated. Slowly but surely for several comes realization previously unthinkable alliances are needed if a better future is to be forged.

Hell on Wheels is their base, a town in embryo - mainly tents, a saloon, a brothel and much lawlessness. Will it ever become a settlement more worthy?

Focus is on Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount excellent), he determined to kill all involved in the rape and murder of his wife. Links (often volatile) are established with Elam (Common also fine), a half-caste former slave aiming to make his presence felt.

Ten episodes, each with a five minute background featurette. Bonuses include details of attempts to ensure authenticity. (Were there really so many with gleaming white teeth?). Interestingly the conniving Durant is based on an actual person, even his more outrageous machinations historically confirmed.

On every level there is much to admire, this a hard-hitting series of people struggling to adapt in order to survive.
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on 7 July 2013
Good acting and a good story line with quite a few interesting sub plots going on.

Hell on Wheels is the name of a camp in which a railroad construction squad live.

The story is based around the building of an east west train line by mainly ex-cons and freed black slaves. Many with their own story to tell. The principal Character is played by Anson Mount an ex Confederate Army Officer looking for the Yankee's that raped and murdered his wife and child. (a bit like Eastwood's "The Outlaw Jose Wales" but with a twist)

As expected there is also quite a bit of double dealing, backstabbing and treachery mixed in for good measure. In reality all the characters are baddies but some are much worse than others.

The most loathsome of the bad baddies is a character called the Swede (he is actually a Norwegian and can't understand why he is called the Swede). The Swede is a strange looking skinny beanpole of a person with a manipulative masochistic and yet sadistic psychopathic character to boot. He has the perfect appearance for the arch-baddie and makes one feel a little uncomfortable whenever he appears, yet he invokes a little pathos at the same time.
It is only towards the end of season two that the true motivation for his wickedness becomes apparent when he links up with the Indians. Like many bad baddies he appears very difficult to kill

Another principal character is the drunken priest - this I found to be the weak point of the series as his story has been repeated in so many films before.

This is an excellent series and I can't wait for season three to start
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on 11 April 2013
This series - revenge and railways - is well acted and enjoyable with some memorable characters, lookout for the Swede. But like Boardwalk Empire 1 there seems to be a lot of set up for the future. I didn't think the plotting/action was strong enough to let this stand alone so you have to be in it for the long haul. Like Deadwood it covers fascinating times and events but didn't grip the way Deadwood did. If its fun your after you will enjoy. I may be interested in season 2, not sure.
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