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Kevin Costner Is Back on the Ranch With 'Yellowstone'
June 20, 2018  | By David Hinckley

Owning a ranch so big that you patrol it by helicopter might seem to be an indication you’ve won the game of life. 

It doesn’t seem to work that way in Yellowstone, a new 10-episode Western epic that premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on the Paramount network. 

As in Giant and Dallas and right up through Fear the Walking Dead, owning that much land obligates you to spend all your time scheming, strategizing, and staying one step ahead of a hundred daily threats. 

In the case of John Dutton (Kevin Costner, top), who owns the Yellowstone ranch, that’s what he does when he’s not dodging bullets in the front seat of his helicopter or hopping out of his pickup truck to yank a troublesome calf out of one of his Mama cows.

On the plus side, Yellowstone is the largest contiguous ranch in America, which makes John Dutton rich and powerful. It does not give him a minute to sit down and savor either of those things. 

Among other things, Yellowstone falls into the figurative and sometimes literal sights of Native Americans who feel like it’s time to reclaim some of the land and resources the white man grabbed several generations back. 

Dutton also feels pressure from a weasel who owns adjacent land and wants to build a huge housing development. Among other things, this would mean damming a river upstream from John’s land. 

Turns out Montana, where all this takes place, isn’t one of those bleeding-heart states that see things like rivers as the property of the people. Nope, if a river flows through your property, you own that part of the river and can do with it what you will. No need to consider the impact on anyone else because, as we said, Montana isn’t one of those bleeding-heart states. 

In fact, the Montana of Yellowstone makes the traditional Wild West look like an Orlando theme park. This Montana is seriously lawless and proud of it. The local police are considered little more than an occasional nuisance, and the Feds are one more adversary John Dutton must spend valuable time outflanking and outsmarting. 

Costner’s Dutton is as shrewd, rugged, focused, and outwardly unsentimental as you’d imagine. Yellowstone also gives him the mandatory quota of adult children, all of whom are involved in the life and work of the family and each of whom inherited an enhanced version of some John Dutton trait. 

Jamie (Wes Bentley) is a lawyer who navigates the parts of Yellowstone life that are subject to some law other than survival of the fittest. He’s charismatic and enchanting to everyone but Dad, who mostly finds him useful. 

Beth (Kelly Reilly) is a ruthless businesswoman whose negotiating and management techniques suggest she may have been raised in Jurassic Park. She’s probably unhappy, given the fact she can’t sleep, and she seems to find pleasure in things like smoking, random sex, and eviscerating everyone except her father. 

Lee (Dave Annable) is John’s in-house aide, the guy who helps run Yellowstone day-to-day.

Kayce (Luke Grimes) is the youngest and the most ambivalent about the family. A former Navy SEAL, he married a Native American, Monica (Kelsey Asbille), and they live on the Reservation, which is considerably less well-appointed than the Dutton place. 

Most of the characters outside the family, including those associated with Kayce and Monica, are involved in some sort of tense relationship with John. 

Some of them he’s bought, some are his rivals and they all seem to acknowledge that from time to time, the only way to settle a dispute in this part of Montana is to line up two teams on either side of a fence, give everyone a gun and let things play out as they will.

Even the chopper isn’t always the trump card one might expect. 

Yellowstone wades into a lot of big issues, from land rights to human nature. Their sheer scope can go over the top at times, and unlike in previous ranch epics like Dallas, it’s rarely broken up with humor. 

On the plus side, the acting is impressive, particularly by Costner and Reilly, and the Western vistas make for a visual feast. 

And a good reminder that sometimes you pay a high price for wealth and power. 

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