When the trailer for king of tulsa premiered during the week six NFL broadcast of the Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs, the league’s early season heavyweight title fight, it seemed more than fitting: the show promised a pick of hard-hitting, swaggering, sporty violence, featuring the TV debut of Sylvester Stallone, and boasting the sturdiest shoulder and most forward jaw this side of the grill. Sly’s goatee jaw sticks out like it’s chiseled out of mossy stone, his voice nearly tumbling through the marbles, eyes half-closed, part tough guy disinterest and part muscle boxer brain damage, his biceps showing off an artificial highway system of veins. The poster for the series promises a star at the top, a necessary name: “Stallone”.
While shipping a package, the man behind the counter asks, “Flammable liquids or firearms?” and the audience is supposed to feel a collective burst of laughter, a notion of “Dude, it’s rambo!” We are all in on the joke, in all the pedestrian doubles in the caravan: “If I stopped eating every time someone tried to hurt me, I would be a skeleton.” He is shy and he is tough, he’s out of place but to himself, he’s just a gray hair in a suit, but, in Mickey’s words, he’s still a “fat, quick, 200 Italian books”. Char.”
For all the noise and bravado, however, the Red Bull and fist-pumping vibes that seem to frame Saturday afternoon’s hangover energy, which is easy to miss, aside from the promise of “From the creator of Yellowstoneis that the series was helmed by one of Hollywood’s most original and up-and-coming writers. Taylor Sheridan wrote Sicario in 2015, a meandering, criss-crossing, paranoid, and depraved look at the war on drugs, machismo, shady government relations, well, shady personal relations, in a picture as confusing, fractured, and dark as one could imagine. expect a major release. It was then nominated for Best Original Screenplay for 2016 Against all odds, an impeccably structured piece of neo-Western noir crime that would make the Coen brothers jealous. It would be almost easy to forget wind rivera windy and chilly and chilling thriller much more desperate than Hell. In just a few short years as a writer, the man originally known for playing David on Sons of Anarchy seemed to have channeled and repackaged a special modern blend of Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry, with a dash of Sam Peckinpah and the spirit of early Warren Zevon. His voice is thin and unsentimental, accompanied by a threatening vision and darkness just beyond the confines of a campfire on the prairies.
Here Sheridan pulled a different kind of trick, writing the original story of Tulsa in just three days, supposedly, before handing the project over entirely to Terence Winter, the writer and producer known for his work on The wolf of Wall Street, Boardwalk Empireand yes, The Sopranos. Winter acts as a surrogate showrunner and seems grateful for such a fresh entry for a mob story. “Gangster in cowboy country” is how he describes it, specifying that particular fish-out-of-water variance, but we’re miles comfortable with Steven Van Zandt reassigning Silvio Dante to lily hammer.
Allen Coulter directs the first two episodes, in an act of total commitment to David Chase’s anti-hero work. (Max Casella also appears, in an apparent nod to Soprano sidekicks.) As we open, Stallone’s Dwight Manfredi is found leaving prison, mocking the new Manhattan of Apple stores and VR headsets, on his way to rectifying the sins of his past, building a new life , to accumulate something from a new crew. “I married this life, I’ll see if she remarried me.” At his welcome home party, he arrives hot, however. “Don’t stay behind my fucking back,” he barks, wasting no time getting down to ridiculous work, his fists cathartic snapping and pffff, mistaking him for the burly men at the head of the family (led by Domenick Lombardozzi) responsible for his 25-year residency at “college,” as they might call it. All are nearly caricature-level, quick-firing chest grunts and harsh finger-pointing, spit-inducing platitudes, the pissing contests of business-casual ex-soccer players residing in tasteless McMansions. He eventually accepts his “banishment”, that there is “nothing left for me here” and provides a light-hearted exposition about an ex-wife and daughter who “hates me”. “Why not?” he asks, and if you’re hungry for more explanation, he might tell you he’s in “the kind of business that doesn’t concern you.”
Either way, he lands in Tulsa with vague assignments dealing with “horse racing”, immediately hires a driver (an endearing Jay Will as Tyson), works his way into the medical marijuana business (led by a stoned, impassive Martin Starr), and delineates the realms between mountainous stoicism and semi-comic violence. Yes, Dwight could use a canteen, pitched as a running shortstop two years old, no less, to fight off a security guard, but he could also be impassively lamenting the prison tiramisu. He uses the threat of a kick, but it’s cooked with basic affability, as he explains “we’re partners” and persuades with a “don’t make me be an asshole about this”. He’s the buddy you love to hang out with, the one who can befriend any bartender (sad boy supreme Garrett Hedlund), who throws down hundreds of dollars like he’s paying penance for a ‘life of wrong choice”, but can also wax on the finitude of “crossing the Rubicon”, or, say, Arthur Miller against Henry Miller.
Like Sheridan’s best tricks, Tulsa is a story driven by a character with baggage. It’s a familiar trope against the world of redemption and second chances, as well as a geriatric take on the silly underdog story we all know and love Stallone for from those early rounds and charmingly awkward alliances with Adrian. Still, the vibe is much less important, like a mean-burn cruise with an old friend who’s found a new perspective. From the backseat, Dwight ponders the brave new world: “GM has gone electric, Dylan has gone public, a phone is a camera, coffee is five bucks, the Stones, God bless them, are still in tour.” Those minor riffs and a few stoner hijinks fill Oklahoma’s long, slow drives—wanna see Mickey Mantle’s childhood home?
But most debuts are far from the most inspired work of Winter or Sheridan and more like something well concocted in a short time, say, on a crazy pandemic weekend, something less apt to marry to pass on to a colleague while you resume your project Kevin Costner (Yellowstone season five begins on the same day as king of tulsa), or your Jeremy Renner project (Mayor of Kingstown season two premieres in less than two months). It helps if said co-worker can overlook the clichéd dad issues that seem borrowed from Rocky Vwhere the scenario is a small world lent directly by one of the most appreciated episodes of Soprano first season.
Still, Tulsa ranks as another solid chapter in the volume of glamorous and showy 21st century antiheroism. “Go West, Old Man” is the name of the first episode, which makes the thematic patterns clear. Here we are, actor and character re-polishing, waking up in a new background. There’s not too much of a line to draw with Jeff Bridges’ recent work in The old man, another story of a, yes, old man, making a new career bookend before our eyes, another top dog now doing it with gray in his beard, revisiting old tools and tricks while learning from them again. Stallone, for his part, is actually quite funny, quite often. “If I can change, and you can change…” indeed. It’s a callback to an American icon so well known it’s easy to take for granted, so a tint, it’s nice to see a flex of different muscles, so undeniably charismatic it’s welcome to do a walk in the countryside.
king of tulsa premieres November 13 on Paramount+.
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