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Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven Was One Of Taylor Sheridan's Biggest Influences For Yellowstone

Building off of the neo-western themes he explored in the films "Hell or High Water" and "Wind River," "Yellowstone" creator Taylor Sheridan is one of the most prolific storytellers in the genre today. The contemporary western has long been represented by movies that explore the decaying values of the West amidst moral ambiguity and gray areas within its characters. Titles like "No Country for Old Men" and "The Hateful Eight" fit perfectly with what Sheridan is aiming to create with characters that stand tall in virtue one second only to commit heinous acts or injustices the next.

The modern western with an anti-hero protagonist at its center can be said to have started with Clint Eastwood's Sergio Leone features in the 1960s, which led to the bold and gritty 1992 revisionist western, "Unforgiven." The feature went on to win four Academy Awards including best picture (via IMDb) and marked Eastwood's last true film in the genre. The feature explored heavy themes, such as revenge, redemption, coming to terms with dark behavior, and deconstructing the status quo interpretation of a mythologized American West. It is perhaps not surprising that Taylor Sheridan cites the movie as one of his biggest influences for his own daring and striking projects.

Sheridan was inspired by the film's upending of the Western genre

In an interview with Sridhar Pappu for The Atlantic, Taylor Sheridan spoke about his influences when it came to fashioning his vision for "Yellowstone." He told the interviewer that one of his main goals when writing the show is to foster "responsible storytelling," which is a cornerstone of tried and true anti-hero TV programs, including, "The Sopranos," "Mad Men," and "Breaking Bad." Like Vince Gilligan's searing, drug empire drama, "Yellowstone" is a contemporary western that updates the moral ambiguity of the spaghetti western genre to take advantage of the struggles of modern life.

Sheridan further stated how Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" upended the style of storytelling that many had come to expect from a western film. In the movie, the town sheriff (Gene Hackman) becomes the bad guy while Eastwood's Will Munny — a former vicious killer and criminal — becomes the champion of the story. The showrunner continued by stating that Eastwood, "let the sheriff be a bully and the hero be this drunken, vicious killer," and "shattered the myth of the American Western." The "Sicario" filmmaker then concluded by sharing, "So when I stepped into that world, I wanted there to be real consequences. I wanted to never, ever shy away from, 'This was the price.'"