In Yellowstone, Heavy Lies the Stetson (on Kevin Costner’s Head)
The June 20 premiere of Yellowstone, a contemporary Western TV series written and directed by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Wind River, Sicario), is likely to rekindle the dimming but never dead fascination with the horse opera, which is exactly what makes the attempt both bold and perilous. As the Western historian David Lavender once wrote, “Many sirens sing along the Western trails. Unless one is wary when he hears them, he will soon find himself struggling in the very quagmires he had hoped to avoid.”
Thus the challenge for Sheridan: satisfying fans of such a well-worn genre without relying on the six-guns and moral certainties they’ve come to expect.
Kevin Costner, by now a veteran on horseback (Dances With Wolves, Open Range, Wyatt Earp and the stunning miniseries Hatfields & McCoys), plays the role of John Dutton, a megarich sixth-generation cattleman whose family runs the largest contiguous ranch in the United States. But heavy lies the crown. The ranch abuts the fictional Broken Rock Reservation, which insists on asserting what little agency it has left after centuries of systemic oppression, playing hardball whenever the Dutton ranch encroaches on its land and using its casino profits to buy back what the government stole.