Murder at Yellowstone City
2022, NR, 126 min. Directed by Richard Gray. Starring Gabriel Byrne, Thomas Jane, Isaiah Mustafa, Anna Camp, Scottie Thompson, Nat Wolff, Zach McGowan, Tanaya Beatty, Aimee Garcia, Richard Dreyfuss.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., June 24, 2022
The mining town of Yellowstone City has seen better days. An accidental explosion that killed off half the menfolk and sealed off the gold has left the Montana boom town much diminished. But there are some that still search to strike a vein, and as this horse opera begins, Dunnigan (McGowan) has found one. A big one. As he rushes to town to spread the news, another man, a stranger in these parts, rides into town. Freed slave and Shakespeare buff Cicero (Mustafa) has, alas, chosen exactly the wrong time to mosey into Yellowstone City, because by the following morning, Dunnigan has been shot dead and Cicero arrested for his murder.
Everyone has a past or a secret (often both!) in Murder at Yellowstone City (formerly known as Murder at Emigrant Gulch, before the marketing meeting, presumably), director Richard Gray’s paint-by-numbers Western. Sheriff Ambrose (Byrne, tired) is a recent widower who is losing his connection with his errant son. Father Thaddeus (Jane) is keeping an outlaw past from his dutiful wife, Alice (Camp). Richard Dreyfuss is Edgar, an erudite bartender who dreams of opening up a theatre with his longtime companion. There is Violet Running Bear (Beatty), an intrepid Native American girl who begins her own inquiry into the murder, and for a brief moment the film veers intriguingly into a frontier Veronica Mars. I say "brief" because Violet is quickly murdered, along with a number of other residents, the killer a menacing figure concealed all in black hopping across rooftops and lurking in the shadows.
The film eschews its murder mystery structure about halfway through, and from there it’s just a series of heavily telegraphed reversals until the big finale gunfight. There are many moments in Murder at Yellowstone City that will strike you with either affectionate familiarity or, more likely, eye-rolling embarrassment. The piano player fumbles his tune when Cicero walks into the saloon for the first time. A character demonstrates a timely proficiency at firearms heretofore unknown. Aid comes from an unlikely place, and the town bigot may not be such a bad guy after all. Much like the behavior of Sheriff Ambrose as he investigates the murders occurring around him, the story is best served as something to be glanced at rather than examined too closely. If you stare too long at fool’s gold, it loses its fleeting appeal.