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Open Range 


Directed by: Kevin Costner

Written by: Lauran Paine & Craig Storper

Main Cast:

Robert Duvall - Boss Spearman
Kevin Costner - Charley Waite
Annette Bening - Sue Barlow
Michael Gambon - Denton Baxter
Michael Jeter - Percy
Diego Luna - Button
James Russo - Sheriff Poole
Abraham Benrubi - Mose
Dean McDermott - Doc Barlow
Kim Coates - Butler
Herb Kohler - Cafe Man
Peter MacNeill - Mack
Cliff Saunders - Ralph
Pat Stutz - Ralph's Wife 
Julian Richings - Wylie

Rated R  

To sum up: There's no home on the range, where the free ranger's cattle can play. In a town there is heard not an encouraging word, and they and their cattle can't stay. 

“Well, Charley, seems like you got this all figured out.”
“Yeah, right up to the point where we don't get killed.”

     "Open Range" is not a great movie. It's not an "Unforgiven", "High Noon", or a "Stagecoach." It is, however, a good movie. It is a refreshing breath of prairie air amid the smog ridden mess of conventional action films.

     It stars Robert Duvall as Boss Spearman, an aging, gruff cowboy who's crusty on the outside, gooie on the inside. He's a simple man with clear, distinct, just principles. With him is Charley Waite (Kevin Costner, who also directed),  a veteran worker who's been with him for ten years. Mose (Abraham Benrubi) a heavyset cowboy who's grateful to Boss for giving him a chance and Button (Diego Luna) an immature kid who literally was plucked from the streets. Together they are "free rangers", cattlemen who use the open range to feed their cattle.

     Together they form a sort of extended family with Duvall as a stern father figure and Costner the eldest son. The four of them bicker. They argue. Duvall has little patience for their immaturities. But deep down, there are unspoken bonds centered around respect and affection. And when push comes to shove, they've got each other's backs.

     Actually, at it's center, the film explores the unspoken assumptions about others that people form in spite of the lack of "opening up" that is prevalent with today's culture. Boss was married once. Costner has a violent, very likely criminal Civil War past. Both Costner and Duvall assume that Doctor Barlow's (Dean McDermott) lovely assistant Sue Barlow (Annette Bening) is married to said doctor. Heck, even though they've worked together for ten years, neither Costner nor Duvall know each other's real names. It's nice little display of only when things are about to hit the fan that people are motivated to say the most basic things that should have been said in the first place.

     And guess what? This being a western there is indeed a situation where things are going to hit the fan. After all, you can't have a western without a gunfight. It would be like having an election without the lying. It starts when Mose is sent into town to get supplies. When he doesn't come back Costner and Duvall ride in to find out what happened to him. There they encounter  Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon) a slimy cattleman who owns the land, the local sheriff (James Russo), and as a result, the whole town. He also happens to hate free rangers and in spite of his telling them to leave it's clear his real intention is to come out, bust some heads and run off with Boss's cattle. And after a tragic turn of events, it's up to Boss and Charley to stand up and fight for justice in a corrupt town.

     It's a doozy of a fight too. When the bullets start flying, Costner crafts a gunfight that is exciting while never losing the chaos, awkwardness, and brutality of the situation. It's a combination of scary, laughable, and thrilling. There's also a matter-of-factness quality in the presentation that lifts it above most of the other gunfights that I've seen.

     Even though it's a modern western peppered with revisionist trappings, the film has an old fashioned feel to it from start to finish. I found this to be a nice change as well. The film has nods to the characterizations of the older westerns. The dialogue is at times quaint and the courtship between Bening and Costner is almost naive in it's simplicity. It's also a film that let's things build until the big fight at the end. In that respect, the pacing is closer to "High Noon" than "Tombstone" which was wall to wall violence. 

     There are two main reasons why these aspects are not annoying. The first is Robert Duvall. He brings to the role of Boss Spearman a solid and engaging performance. His "take no crap" simplicity is clearly presented in a very watchable way. Though it is not a great stretch for him it's still a good performance by a capable actor. It's fun to watch him quietly steal every scene he's in and it's a credit to Costner for stepping back and letting his older costar do that.

     Costner is also good in his presentation of a weary individual living day to day, trying to escape his past but not really seeing a future. It's clear that Costner loves westerns and it shows in his performance. He slips into the role of a cowboy with a comfortable ease. He seems more at home in a saddle than anywhere else.

     Annette Bening also plays the role of Sue with a sturdy strength. Even though Sue has seen a lot of violence in her job as a nurse, she doesn't come across as a fragile woman pleading for the man to turn his back on the violence that is about to erupt. She realizes that that is the way the world works and confrontations are sometimes unavoidable.

     With it's breathtaking "open range" shots of gorgeous scenery and casual build up to the final confrontation, Open Range is a calming action film. It doesn't beat you over the head with loud, theater rattling, clichéd gunplay but with a casually paced build up in which the characters are never overshadowed by the events around them. It's not perfect but it is entertaining.

     I'm open to this range.

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