Reviewed by: Jay Levitz
Starring: Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, Abraham Benrubi, Robert Duvall, Michael Gambon | Directed by: Kevin Costner | Produced by: Kevin Costner, David Valdes, Craig Storper | Written by: Craig Storper, Lauran Paine | Distributor: Touchstone Pictures (Disney)
Kevin Costner’s third directorial outing, “Open Range”, pairs the younger actor-director with veteran Robert Duvall in one of the only Westerns you may expect to come out of Hollywood this year. Judging by the fruits of Costner’s efforts herein, the genre has yet to be rejuvenated.
Charlie and Boss (Costner and Duvall, respectively) are two free-range cowboys who run into trouble after a wealthy landowner, Baxter (Michael Gambon), hinders their cow-herding trek with violence via hired killers and a corrupt Marshall.
Based on a book with the same title by Lauran Paine, director Costner’s epic features beautiful scenery (filmed in Alberta, Canada), plus solid acting by Duvall, Costner, the late Michael Jeter, and Annette Bening. But the plot of “Open Range” does not bear the weight of such talents expended here, and its predictability may leave you looking at your watch, waiting for the inevitable shoot-out climax.
Costner’s Oscar-winning directorial debut, “Dances With Wolves”, was compelling for three hours, as we watched its main character slowly, fascinatingly, make changes in his attitude toward the Sioux Indians. The film showed how a man could grow to love people whom he once considered enemies.
For a good film on forgiveness, “Forgiven”]
In Costner’s latest movie, a “bad” man is just a “bad” man who deserves to be killed. A “good” man can do many things, like killing nearly all of his enemies, while he still remains “good” because he is administering justice. Such is the logic of “Open Range” and, perhaps, the overwhelming majority of Hollywood products. Still another rule is closely followed: those who are “good” can’t be killed by evil—no matter how outnumbered. The good always seem to attract local beauty quickly as well, hence Annette Bening’s character, Sue, exists to service this clich.
Fans of John Wayne films may enjoy “Open Range” for its humor, beautiful vistas, and salty cowboy dialogue full of single-syllable words. Those who may be looking for a little more depth should look elsewhere, since this is a mere revenge fantasy. Costner puts a great deal of care into the final blood bath that “cleanses” the town of its evil influence, making the scene exciting to watch, realistic, and loud.
If the same amount of care had been put into developing the love story between Costner and Bening, perhaps showing parts of Charlie’s dark past, “Open Range” might have had some depth. But the filmmakers settle for warm, fuzzy, and bloody, rather than take risks like Clint Eastwood did 11 years ago with the genre-bending “Unforgiven”.
From one perspective, Costner is simply giving audiences what they expect with this Western: a love story, a shoot-out on Main Street, and great photography. From another perspective, he is cheating himself and everyone else by producing a film so basic and forgettable as “Open Range”, especially after the intelligence, maturity, and storytelling ability Costner demonstrated within 1990’s “Dances With Wolves”, which was released on DVD recently and includes an extra hour of story, plus many extras.
“Open Range” is a disappointing Western, selling an old story with hardly an idea to add, at a time when our country, perhaps the whole world, needs to witness forgiveness and real sacrifice in this particularly American genre of films, rather than more revenge and anger.
Open Range is rated R for violence. It also contains a fair amount of profanity, including several misuses of God’s name. One character even goes so far as to characterize “the man upstairs” with an expletive, due to his bitterness. Children of any age should not be taken to this film for entertainment. Mostly because they will likely only enjoy the ten-minute shooting scene and will likely be asleep due to boredom once the movie arrives at that moment.Year of Release—2003