‘1923’ Review: ‘Yellowstone’ Prequel with Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren | Daily News Byte

‘1923’ Review: ‘Yellowstone’ Prequel with Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren

 | Daily News Byte


“Which Dutton lives or dies?” creates a strange central question in the latest addendum “Yellowstone,” as well as the premiere’s only visible suspense.

Harrison Ford aiming a pistol is an indelibly American image, but one almost entirely divorced from the indelibly American genre that often produces such macho iconography. Many actors who carried themselves as well as their sidearms — the likes of Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Kurt Russell, Jack Palance, Mel Gibson — either did so in westerns or later entered the genre. (Even Gibson, who hit it big with “Lethal Weapon,” still has “Maverick” on his résumé.) But the Ford cowboy isn’t ingrained in our collective consciousness. Sure, he dabbled in TV shoot-em-ups before he made the A-list and later brought in the mostly forgotten movies “The Frisco Kid” and “Cowboys & Aliens.” The latter even brings to mind Ford’s breakout stand — a little space western called “Star Wars” — but it’s not Han Solo’s vest or skills as a marksman that make him stand out.

At the risk of stating the obvious, there was something about him face. Eastwood and Russell may emit a noticeable sneer or angry shudder when holding their respective barrels, but Ford tells us a lot about his characters in the way his eyes bulge or frown. lips when he holds a gun. Debates over whether Han shot first (and the historical rewriting that followed) can be traced back to our ability to believe either option: How could this guy shoot first? what if this man no? Over the years, Ford has shaped and transformed that iconic image, each time rooting his expressions in character, while still bringing new dimensions to our understanding of the actor, the star, the man doing it.

When he couldn’t help but draw his six-shooter in “1923,” Ford’s face didn’t change. He doesn’t blink. His posture didn’t even change. His irritated animal commissioner, Jacob Dutton, has his sights set on a cheeky little miscreant who, when Jacob turns around, approaches him, and places a gun under his chin, as if the revolver were an extension of his body – as casually pulled as a hand from its coat pocket. It’s also one of the few times in the pilot episode where Ford’s expression isn’t locked into a frenzy. “1923,” the second “Yellowstone” prequel from writer and creator Taylor Sheridan, grounds itself in violence — violence to animals, such as cows stung by locusts; violence on land, which does not provide enough food for animals, and thus, their owners; and yes, violence to people, like the threat Ford is convincingly willing to carry out with his branded gun.

Helen Mirren as Cara Dutton in the Paramount+ series 1923. Photo Cr: Emerson Miller/Paramount+ © 2022 Viacom International Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Helen Mirren in “1923”

Courtesy of Emerson Miller / Paramount+

With one episode, little can be said for certain about the purpose of all this violence, or “1923” in general. A familiar voiceover opens the episode with some blunt exposition that still requires several minutes of internet sleuthing to make sense; Helen Mirren, as Jacob’s immigrant wife Cara, is the first to fire a weapon, in a scene that is also incomprehensible; two storylines — one in Africa and the other in a government-run boarding school — feel like they belong in different shows (but hey, at least one involves repeated, vicious beatings for the only person of color in the cast); and because I fear the wrath of the “Yellowstone” faithful, I will not share any closely guarded revelations about the Dutton family tree. After all, knowing who and how they relate to “1883” or current characters is required homework for anyone who focuses on anything other than the iconic leads. (Mirren, for now, gets all the fun.)

One would expect that Jacob’s disgust with his opponents (whom he calls “bullies who whine about the consequences of the rules they break”) and weariness with the constant drudgery of ranching would lead the aging cowboy to grace; that he wanted better for future generations of Duttons who we know will inherit his “collapsing empire.” But bearing in mind Sheridan’s penchant for juxtaposing humanity’s ugliest antics with magnificent natural scenery, it seems just as likely that “1923” will only match Jacob’s grimacing with a perpetually grim tone. .

At least Ford — and Mirren — will make it as enjoyable as possible.

Grade: C+

“1923” premieres Sunday, December 18 on Paramount+. New episodes will be released weekly.

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