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Yellowstone's Wes Bentley Compares The Show To The Godfather

Yes, "Yellowstone" is first and foremost a series in the western genre. We can bicker all day over whether its modern setting qualifies it as such, given that most westerns historically are set in the nineteenth century or, in a few instances, the first few decades of the twentieth. But given how the prequel series "1883" and "1923" establish the cutthroat origins of the ranch at the center of the flagship series, we could probably go ahead and dispense with the pedantry.

That said, we can't deny the influence that other genres have had on the show's events and content. It is, after all, a show that takes place, not in the 1870s, but in the modern day. And for as distinct as the western is as a genre, it isn't difficult to see its themes and influences cross over into others. "The Walking Dead" is indisputably a zombie apocalypse show, but its homages to westerns — complete with new sheriffs riding into town in its earliest episodes — are easy to pick out. Even "Breaking Bad," with its New Mexico setting and focus on outlaw behaviors, is aptly described as a "neo-western" crime drama

That permeability between genres goes the other way too, and it certainly shows up in "Yellowstone." Or, at least, that's how some of its stars see it. 

Western meets gangster film meets Greek tragedy

Appearing on "The Kelly Clarkson Show," Wes Bentley, who plays Jamie Dutton, the family scion and Montana attorney general with an inferiority complex, said that he had a quick way to describe "Yellowstone" for those who haven't seen it. "It's sort of like 'The Godfather,'" he said. "The family's sort of like 'The Godfather.'" At first glance, it's an odd description, but given the amount of power-brokering and violence seen on the series, along with the thin line the Duttons skate between licit and illicit activities, it's certainly apt. 

"There's also some Greek tragedy," continued Bentley, clearly tipping his hat not just to the epic violence, but also to the recurring themes of characters doing what they have to do for the sake of survival. "You mix that with 'Big Sky Country," and that's kind of the show." Bentley is likely referring to ABC's crime-thriller series "Big Sky," which also takes place in Montana. 

There is another aspect that can put a gangster film in the same league as a western too. Both genres have come to play the role of examining the contradictions and often unsavory underbelly of the American experience, as well as the morally questionable lengths some will go to find their place within it. So much so that, in the run-up to the 2020 election season, writers like Tablet's J. Hoberman commented on how it could be that the gangster film had come to replace the western as the favored genre among presidential hopefuls.