Open Range

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Movie Review by Neils Hesse

Starring: Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, Michael Gambon, Michael Jeter

Director: Kevin Costner

“There’s worse things that gnaw away on a man than death”.

One of the many classic lines that you would expect to hear in a good old fashioned western, OPEN RANGE is more than just that and yes, the quote is taken from this movie.

Opening with wide graceful shots of a gloriously wide plain accompanied with a gentle soundtrack by Michael Kamen, it sets a tone that is pertinent to the tale ahead. Charley Waite (Kevin Costner) works for Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) as his right hand man herding cattle as free grazers, moving from one territory to another alongside a gentle giant of a man, Mose Harrison (Abraham Benrubi), and a young man, Button (Diego Luna), who is like an adopted son to Boss.

Boss and his crew are just passing through and decide to stock up on supplies so Boss sends Mose to the nearby town for supplies. Mose doesn’t return so Boss and Charley go to find him only to discover that he has been beaten up and locked up by a corrupt sheriff controlled by an aggressive landowner played with slimy tenacity by Michael Gambon. The landowner hates free grazers and more or less orders Boss and Charlie to get the hell out of the territory.

They take their wounded man to the local doctor where Charley is smitten by the beautiful woman they find there played very convincingly by Annette Bening. After the treatment they return to their camp. Boss and Charley leave their two cowhands with the cattle and go out to deal with a group of thugs sent out to deal with them, they beat them up but on their return to the camp they discover one of their men dead and the other in a fatal condition. The time to make a stand or run presents itself and Boss and Charley choose the former and make them s o b’s pay.

As urgent as this reckoning is it is built up slowly to reveal sides of the characters that so far the audience have not seen and indeed things that even the characters themselves do not know about themselves. Amidst all this tension romance also blossoms for Charley but this does not deter him or Boss from their bloody and deadly deed. The final showdown is exhilarating perfectly completing the picture of the characters involved.

Kevin Costner expertly directs allowing the characters to take the time to develop strongly so there is empathy for them when they are in harm’s way and credibility in their actions.

Assisted by David Valdes who produced Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN, the similar tones of friendship are repeated here and the value of life, but also the ease in which lives can be wiped out. Despite being perhaps a little slow this suits the double-edged sword that this film is as it portrays both sides of a cowboys’ existence and in particular these characters lives.

Performances are all good across the board with Kevin Costner’s emotionally scarred cowboy working very well alongside Robert Duvall’s upstanding all round cowboy and there’s very good chemistry between the two. Annette Bening and Michael Gambon both do their roles justice.

On the whole OPEN RANGE is an all round modern western that should eventually be remembered as a classic.

5 out of 6 stars