Murder at Yellowstone City
Sex, bloody violence in thoughtful Western mystery.
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Murder at Yellowstone City
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Murder at Yellowstone City is a murder-mystery Western. It's a well-told story, with diverse characters and commentary on topics like faith and discrimination. Violence is intense and bloody, with guns and shooting, blood spurts, throat-slicing (with gushing blood), bloody corpses, strangling, punching, kicking, hitting with blunt objects, digging bullets out of flesh, an explosion, violent dialogue, and more. There are also a couple of fairly graphic sex scenes, with panting, moaning, etc., brief view of naked breasts, passionate kissing, and brief sexual dialogue/sexual gestures. Several characters are sex workers. Language is infrequent but includes a use of "f--k," plus "s--t," "goddamn," etc. There's social drinking and smoking in the local saloon, and some characters drink privately from flasks or bottles.
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What's the Story?
In MURDER AT YELLOWSTONE CITY, it's 1881 in Montana, and formerly enslaved Cicero (Isaiah Mustafa) enters Yellowstone City, finding a fellow Shakespeare fan in bartender Edgar Blake (Richard Dreyfuss). Soon after, Robert Dunnigan (Zach McGowan) uncovers a huge gold vein. He rides into town, buys rounds of drinks, promises jobs for everyone, and sleeps with his favorite sex worker, Isabel (Aimee Garcia). Before long, Dunnigan is found murdered, and Sheriff Ambrose (Gabriel Byrne) arrests Cicero as the most likely killer. Violet (Tanaya Beatty), who runs the livery stable, comes to the sheriff with possible proof that Cicero is innocent; that same night, Violet is murdered. Preacher's wife Alice (Anna Camp) goes to visit Cicero in jail and forms her own plan to prove his innocence. But it will require that her husband, Preacher Thaddeus Murphy (Thomas Jane), dig into his own dark past.
Is It Any Good?
Long and smacking of budgetary restrictions, this Western nevertheless moves at an unhurried pace, balancing its thoughtful ideas with vivid storytelling and strong characters. It's rather impressive how well Murder at Yellowstone City overcomes its limitations thanks to clever casting and purposeful themes. At the center is Cicero's Blackness, which immediately singles him out as the murder suspect, even without any proof. This is presented as grimly inevitable, and the situation is enhanced by Cicero's love of Shakespearian tragedy (his name comes from Julius Caesar). Then there's the movie's view of faith, as Sunday church is interrupted with the news of the gold, the parishioners exiting their pews to see the treasure.
The preacher is forced to betray his position to help solve the mystery. Similarly, the movie offers caustic views of both Latina and Native American characters, both strong women who become victims. But there's a loving (if closeted) LGBTQ+ couple, and the preacher's wife is far from the passive character that role usually implies; she comes up with the most useful clues. All in all, like the best Westerns do, Murder at Yellowstone City uses its surroundings (shot in Montana) as a cross-section to explore the pros and cons of U.S. society, ranging from prejudice to teamwork. The solid cast and the confident way that writer Eric Belgau and director Richard Gray unfold the story keep everything in context, letting viewers enjoy the visceral Western stuff, while digesting the deeper themes.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about Murder at Yellowstone City's violence. How did it make you feel? Was it exciting? Shocking? What did the movie show or not show to achieve this effect? Why is that important?
Did you notice diverse representations in the film? What is the movie saying about racial equality or discrimination?
What makes the Western genre interesting? What can stories of the Old West tell people about who they are now?
What does the movie have to say about faith? Are the preacher and his wife good people? Why, or why not?
- In theaters: August 23, 2022
- On DVD or streaming: June 24, 2022
- Cast: Isaiah Mustafa, Thomas Jane, Gabriel Byrne
- Director: Richard Gray
- Studio: RLJE Films
- Genre: Western
- Run time: 127 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: October 8, 2022
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