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‘1923’ Review: Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren Seek Violence in Grim ‘Yellowstone’ Prequel

Harrison Ford aiming a pistol is an indelible American image, yet one almost entirely divorced from the indelible American genre that so often yields such macho iconography. Many actors who carried themselves as well as they carried their sidearm — the likes of Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Kurt Russell, Jack Palance, Mel Gibson — either did so in westerns or eventually made their way to the genre. (Even Gibson, who hit it big with “Lethal Weapon,” still has “Maverick” on his résumé.) But Ford the cowboy isn’t ingrained in our collective consciousness. Sure, he dabbled in TV shoot-em-ups before he made the A-list and later carried best-forgotten movies “The Frisco Kid” and “Cowboys & Aliens.” The latter even calls to mind Ford’s breakout stance — a little space western called “Star Wars” — but it’s not Han Solo’s vest or skills as a marksman that make him stand out.

Paramount+ Watch Guide | 1923

At the risk of stating the obvious, there’s something about his face. Eastwood and Russell may emit a striking sneer or wrathful tremble when gripping their respective barrels, but Ford tells us so much about his characters in the way his eyes bulge or lips curl when he picks up a gun. Debates over whether Han shot first (and the historical rewriting that ensued) can be traced back to our ability to believe either option: How could this guy shoot first? How could this guy not? Over the years, Ford shaped and reshaped that iconic image, every time rooting his expressions in character, while still bringing fresh dimensions to our understanding of the actor, the star, the person making them.

When he inevitably draws his six-shooter in “1923,” Ford’s face doesn’t change. He doesn’t blink. His posture doesn’t even shift. His irritated livestock commissioner, Jacob Dutton, is so focused on a cocky little troublemaker that when Jacob turns around, walks up to him, and sticks a gun under his chin, it’s as though the revolver is an extension of his body — as casually unsheathed as a hand from its coat pocket. It’s also one of the few times in the pilot episode where Ford’s expression isn’t affixed in an indignant scowl. “1923,” the second “Yellowstone” prequel from writer and creator Taylor Sheridan, grounds itself in violence — violence on animals, like the cattle plagued by locusts; violence on the land, which isn’t producing enough nourishment for the animals, and thus, their owners; and yes, violence on people, like the threat Ford is convincingly ready to carry out with his brandished firearm.

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