Open Range (12A)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner15/03/2004

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 145 mins

Enjoyable, well directed traditional western with a superb performance by Robert Duvall and an impressive final shoot-out.

Kevin Costner’s best films tend to be either self-directed Westerns (Dances With Wolves), sports-related dramas (Field of Dreams, Tin Cup) or about JFK (JFK, Thirteen Days) – one certainly hopes he’s learned his lesson with regard to post-apocalyptic adventure movies after Waterworld and The Postman.

At any rate, it’s no surprise that his latest film as director and star sees him returning to familiar territory and the result is a thoroughly enjoyable, straight-shooting traditional Western.

Trouble For Free Grazers

Robert Duvall plays Boss, a cattle driver in charge of a herd of cattle and three men: his right-hand man and friend of ten years Charley Waite (Costner), fat, bearded, good-natured Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and young ‘Button’ (Diego Luna, from Y Tu Mama Tambien). Boss grazes his cattle on the open range.

They stop outside a town, sending Mose into town on an errand - when he doesn’t come back, Charlie and Boss ride in after him and meet corrupt rancher Baxter (Michael Gambon, using a thick Irish accent that teeters on caricature). Baxter is bitterly opposed to the rights of free grazers and he makes plenty of trouble for Boss and Charlie, setting up the inevitable Final Shoot-out.

Meanwhile, Charley finds himself falling for Sue (Annette Bening), a woman he meets when he and Boss take Button to the local doctor. Their relationship is nicely observed – both are attracted, yet hesitant, aware of the consequences of getting involved with each other. Unfortunately, this also leads to some clunky dialogue, such as when Charley tells Sue: “Some men are going to get killed here today and I’m gonna be killing them”.

Superb Acting All Round

The acting is superb: Costner eschews all notions of Movie Star Glamour in favour of creating a real character, a man with a troubled past he is trying to forget. He may even be wearing a set of ugly, dirty false teeth – opinion is divided on the matter, but they’re definitely not the sparkling pearly whites that were so distracting in Cold Mountain. Bening is also excellent – it’s a genuine pleasure to see her in a film again – and there’s good support from Diego Luna, Benrubi and Michael Jeter as one of Baxter’s henchmen.

Duvall, in particular, is wonderful, getting all the best lines and conveying acres of detail just by using pauses and looks. In fact, it’s a gift of a part and a generous move on Costner’s part, as Duvall is essentially the star of the piece. Only Gambon lets the side down a little – his character is Pure Evil, which jars slightly against the well-drawn, well-rounded characters of Boss and Charlie.

The photography, courtesy of James Muro, is excellent and there are some terrific scenes. The high-point of the film is the lengthy shoot-out sequence, which is especially good because of several great scenes that build up to it, including: Boss and Charley eating chocolate and smoking cigars (“Better enjoy these while we can”) while waiting for Baxter’s men to arrive; the two men swapping secrets in case they don’t make it; Charley explaining to Boss exactly how the gunfight is going to go down – who’ll shoot first, who’ll run, who to aim for, etc.

In short, Open Range is a thoroughly enjoyable Western, rich in thematic detail and brimming with good scenes and performances. Highly recommended.

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Open Range (12A)
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Content updated: 23/10/2017 21:50

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