The first tip-off is the title: “Murder in Yellowstone City” is not your standard-issue shoot-‘-em-up. Rather, director Richard Gray’s skillful and handsomely mounted indie is as much a built-in mystery as it is a traditionally satisfying otter, much to the chagrin of fans of both genres who rarely get a sample of such a mix. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a situation other than Henry Hathaway’s “Five Card Stud” (1968) and the tragically short TV series “Peacemakers” in 2003, which says what could have happened if Jane Gray and Agatha Christie had been involved. Bar and swap ideas.
Only gradually does it emerge that Thomas Jane’s Thaddeus Murphy demonstrates amazing pathological prowess in trying to prove the innocence of the suspected killer, as the piece’s Sagebrush Sleuth, as his character – Alice, persuaded by Anna Kemp as his discreet wife and companion. Surprisingly, Thaddeus is portrayed as an idealistic priest who leans towards his flock in an unnamed town with his evangelical wife and is not excluded at first for crime-solving. But before that he brought out the body of a murder victim and what kind of bullets remained in the body. And before he confesses to Alice that, in the bad old days, he did more straight shooting than Bible thumping.
It fell in the Montana Territory in 1881, and Yellowstone City, the once prosperous gold-rush boom, fell at a difficult time. Recently, it has become a sanctuary for those who are looking for something like an inclusive community because, really, they have nowhere else to go. Among the citizens: Edgar (Richard Dreyfus) and Mickey (John Alles), elderly gay salon keepers who do not maintain a very believable pretense that they are simply good friends; Violet (Tanya BT), a young Lakota Sioux woman who survived an attack by cavalry on her men and is now running a local Lever Stable; And Isabelle (Amy Garcia), the Mexican overseer of Saloon Girls who also leans towards orphans and other needy people.
And then Sheriff James Ambrose (Gabriel Byrne), a tough ex-soldier who is not given unreasonable brutality, but feels completely (and rightly) confident in his ability to keep the peace because of his terrible reputation. Unfortunately, this attitude leads him to immediately assume that when a murder occurs in Yellowstone City, a newcomer must be held responsible because he will be “the only person who does not know what I will do to him.” Part of the beauty of Byrne’s strictly controlled, fully committed performance is that even when Ambrose’s determination to maintain law and order turned into indomitable bigotry, he could not become the bad guy in the movie.
There is a promise that happy days will come again when an unruly prospect (Zach McGowan) will hit the gold vein on the demand near him and announce his intention to share his good fortune with his struggling neighbors. Unfortunately, Prospector was shot dead on his way home to his long-suffering wife (Scotty Thompson). And Sheriff Ambrose quickly decides that the offender must be the only newcomer to the area: a gentleman and eloquent ex-slave who calls himself Cicero (Isaiah Mustafa) because, “I grew up by myself, or the wind. I follow the name I choose. “(A nice touch: When Cicero quotes Shakespeare to a happy Edgar, the saloon keeper warns him not to use Bird to speak in front of other people because, around these parts, people Likes to “understand what they are being told.”
Cicero hid behind bars after some of the Prospector’s gold was suspiciously uncovered in his room. But Alice suspects his guilt after serving him in prison, and continues his case to Thaddeus after Cicero’s unauthorized release. (And if it sounds vague, well, it’s meant to be. It’s a mystery, remember?) Two more murders occur as the stranger tries his best to avoid recovery. Ambrose sees this as further evidence that his gut instinct was correct. Thaddeus, however, is eager to pick up a shovel and go to the cemetery.
Eric works from a first-rate script by Belgaum, playing a fair role in getting the gray clues out, until, near the two-thirds mark, he tells us who is responsible for the bloody work. Even better, he and Belgaum took the time to show sympathy for the two men who took a good way to push for on-screen death who met with violent consequences on the scene that were even more tragic because their murders seemed so unjust.
The various shootouts and action scenes scattered throughout the last third of “Murder in Yellowstone City” are exciting and, better yet, believable. (You don’t often see good guys show up to rearrange themselves with the weapons of their just-killed enemies.) And filmmakers don’t see the need to spell everything out for us. All we need is a brief glimpse of Cicero’s terribly wounded back to fully realize that he is already alive. At one point, Edgar and Mickey – whose love affair never plays for laughter, when they joke with each other – reveal that they adopted Violet more or less when they found her after the genocide. This is a powerful scene, but the emotion is not drinking milk unnecessarily.
And we never find out what Thaddeus did, saw and learned in his past life to make him so skilled at firearms and ballistics, and why he “came to God because I was running away from Satan.” Alice simply admits that when it comes to pushing, she can be a hero and, yes, a savior. So he can.
Couples, it should be noted, can effectively continue their crime-solving through a sequel or a TV series spin-off. After all, faith and forensics can move mountains.