As you all know, Taylor Sheridan — who directs, writes and is executive producer on Yellowstone — is probably the contemporary creator most in line with my sensibilities. Sicario; Hell or High Water; Wind River — they cloverleaf in the x-ring for me. In Yellowstone, Sheridan has turned his contemporary frontier themes up to 11, soaked them in alcohol, sex and family dysfunction and set them on fire. It’s excessive, but in a most satisfying way. Like Sons of Anarchy was. The comparison is apt: After all, Sheridan’s last acting gig was in SOA, and he doubtless picked up more than a little swagger from the Crown Prince of Excess, Kurt Sutter. If you’ve watched SOA, you’ll pick up on some Sutter-like flourishes in this tale. Takes “riding for the brand” to a whole new level…
Yellowstone follows the Dutton family, led by John Dutton, who controls the largest contiguous ranch in the United States, under constant attack by those it borders – land developers, an Indian reservation, and America’s first National Park. It is an intense study of a violent world far from media scrutiny – where land grabs make developers billions, and politicians are bought and sold by the world’s largest oil and lumber corporations. Where drinking water poisoned by fracking wells and unsolved murders are not news: they are a consequence of living in the new frontier. It is the best and worst of America seen through the eyes of a family that represents both.
We got a new cast member in the episode we watched Sunday night. The Yellowstone Ranch foreman Rip Wheeler recruits a cowboy out of the Montana State Pen. I thought to myself, That dude looks a helluva lot like Ryan Bingham. That’s because it was Ryan Bingham. Perfect.
This ain’t no place for kids.
Sheridan has tapped Gil Birmingham again, for a role as John Dutton’s antagonist Thomas Rainwater, a tribal chief who has ambitions to break the Dutton family and reclaim vast tracts of land that belonged to his people. Birmingham was in both Hell or High Water and Wind River. There’s an excellent feature on him in the current issue of Cowboys & Indians Magazine. Quite a guy.
Kevin Costner is John Dutton, the uncrowned king of Montana (uneasy is the head that wears the hat). I was kinda down on Costner for years, but his turn as Devil Anse Hatfield in Hatfields & McCoys made a believer out of me, and he’s quite good here. Kelly Riley chews every piece of scenery as Beth Dutton, the Hellbitch, a Tennessee Williams character transplanted to Montana, where she specializes in vicious ball-busting and swills champagne from the bottle and chain smokes while lying naked in a horse trough in the front yard on the anniversary of her mother’s death. That’s the kind of show this is…
Luke Grimes is very good as estranged Dutton son Kayce, a Marine and horse trainer married to an Indian woman named Monica, who teaches on the rez. They are trying to live independently of the Dutton dynasty, but you know how that worked out for Michael Corleone…
Montana is magnificent, of course.
The contemporary Western niche is pretty vigorous these days, which pleases me, hitting right on the Continuity & Perseverance themes that I’ve been framing my own stuff around for a while now. I kinda dig the cowboy-hats-and -assault-rifles thing.
If you’ve got some time late at night, pour yourself a stiff drink, light a smoke and fire up this wild ride. Everybody needs a cowboy soap opera in their life.