Two things happen as Murder at Yellowstone City opens. Dunnigan (Zach McGowan, The 100, The Scorpion King: Book of Souls) finds gold, bringing the promise of riches not only for himself but for once-booming Yellowstone City. And a former slave named Cicero (Isaiah Mustafa, Shadowhunters, The Clinic) rides into town. Cicero sees the smoke from the blast that uncovers the gold as he rides in, but doesn’t investigate. But that explosion will prove fateful for him when the prospector turns up dead and Sheriff Ambrose (Gabriel Byrne, End of Days, The 33) is quick to put the blame on the newcomer.
So quick in fact he doesn’t even pretend to investigate the crime. He simply arrests Cicero and declares the matter closed. Evidence to the contrary is ignored. This doesn’t sit well with Alice (Anna Camp, True Blood, Jerry and Marge Go Large) who convinces her outlaw turned preacher husband Thaddeus (Thomas Jane, The Last Son, Vendetta) that he’s innocent, setting up a bloody conflict that will divide the town.
Director Richard Gray (Robert the Bruce, Mine Games) and writer Eric Belgau (Murder on the Yellow Brick Road, Keyeye the Movie) take the classic western trope of the stranger in town and make it the center of a film that’s as much a drama about the inhabitants of Yellowstone City as it is an action film about a murder at Yellowstone City.
We have to sit through nearly an hour of PG-13 level soap opera about the townsfolk before another murder occurs and Cicero is mysteriously freed from jail just in time to be implicated in it. Murder at Yellowstone City should have been at this point a lot sooner or made the drama more interesting rather than a collection of cliches and petty grievances. It’s meant to set up multiple potential suspects but most of them are obvious red herrings.
Unfortunately, after a short chase Murder at Yellowstone City goes back to the drama. We have brothel owner Isabel (Aimee Garcia, Dexter, Dragon Wars: D-Day) who was the dead man’s favourite girl and his scorned wife (Scottie Thompson, Skyline, Before I Wake). The sheriff’s troubled son (Nat Wolff, Body Cam, Death Note), the gay bartender Edgar (Richard Dreyfuss, Every Last One of Them, Polar), and a young girl Josephine (Isabella Ruby) who wants revenge for her father’s death some odd years ago.
A cast like this could at least have made for a good mystery as we tried to figure out who the killer is, and who is next on his list of victims. But the killer’s identity is fairly obvious and the film instead wastes another half hour on petty bickering before finally delivering what the trailer promised. And it does a good job of that with a long running gunfight involving most of the cast.
Murder at Yellowstone City does have some good moments among all the talk. At one point Sheriff Ambrose explains that it doesn’t matter if Cecero is guilty or not. The message that there’s a price to pay for breaking the law is what matters. That’s chilling and quite relevant at the moment. I also liked the fact that race isn’t made a major part of the plot. Cicero could as easily have been a white drifter coming through town at the wrong time. Similarly not much is made of Edgar’s orientation beyond his worry that taking a stand may out them, to which his partner tells him the people already know.
But those few high points and a solid last act aren’t really worth sitting through the film’s first ninety minutes for. Even the talented cast can’t make much of all the dull and mostly irrelevant dialogue. Kept to a reasonable length, Murder at Yellowstone City could have been a decent watch, instead, it’s dull and overlong with way too much padding.
RLJE Films will release the Murder at Yellowstone City in Theaters and on VOD and Digital platforms on June 24th. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more information. And you can check FilmTagger for some similar suggestions.