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Open Range Review

By Shawn McKenzie 08/16/2003

Kevin Costner amazes me.  He has set the bar so low that he has managed to trick some critics into thinking his latest movie, Open Range, is good (he also directed it.)  Donít worryÖI didnít fall for it.


Itís 1882, and we open with cattlemen Charley Waite (Costner) and Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) herding their stock on the open range.  They have been doing this for almost a decade, and currently Mose Harrison (Abraham Benrubi), a big hulking man, and Button (Diego Luna), a 16-year-old kid, have been assisting them with their cattle.  They are ďfreegrazers,Ē cowboys who let their livestock graze in vacant fields not owned by anyone specifically.  Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon), an Irish immigrant who rules the small town of Harmonville with the help of his hired gunslinger Butler (Kim Coates) and the townís peacekeeper, Sheriff Poole (James Russo), doesnít like freegrazers, because they feed on his potential land.  One day Charley and Boss send Mose to town to get some supplies.  When he doesnít come back, they head to town to find out what happened to him.  They find that heís been jailed and beaten by Baxterís men.  After getting him out of jail, they take him to Doc Barlow (Dean McDermott) to get him fixed up.  It is there that Docís relative Sue (Annette Bening) catches Charleyís eye.  She assists the doctor in the clinic, and it appears that she is attracted to Charley as well.  After Mose is back on his feet, they leave town.  They donít leave the area, because they want revenge for what Baxterís men did to Mose.  They also find out that the locals are planning to either take or scatter their herds.  Charley and Boss confront a group of Baxterís men, but when they return to their camp, they find Button near death, and Moses and their dog dead.  They bury Moses and their dog, and then they bring Button to the Docís house.  He is gone at that moment, but Sue does an effective job caring for Button.  In a High Noon-style showdown, Charley and Boss decide to have a final shootout with Baxter and his men so they can get revenge for Moses and so they can be free to freegraze again.  They are assisted by a local stable owner named Percy (the late Michael Jeter) who doesnít like the iron grip that Baxter has over the town.  They realize that they could be killed, but they would rather die than not live free.


First, I will say that, with the exception of Costner, the acting in this movie is excellent.  Iíve never seen Duvall in a Western before (though I am aware he has made them), and he is a natural fit.  Benrubi finally gets a role that allows him to display his acting chops.  He hasnít had a role this big since he played Larry Kubiac on ďParker Lewis Canít LoseĒ (I know most people know him as Jerry on ďE.R.,Ē but that role has never been more than extended cameos.)  Costner, on the other hand, is as wooden as ever.


If I liked the acting so much, why didnít I like the movie more?  It is because the movie is slow and boring in several parts.  The movie tries so hard to be Unforgiven that it is almost annoying.  Costerís description of his violent past comes off more as a pity party than as self-reflection.  The romance between Costner and Bening goes absolutely nowhere, and then is conveniently wrapped up in the end.  She seems to like him only because he is the last single man to take a woman over 30-years-old and not because she actually likes him.


One thing about this movie that I found unusual was the camerawork.  It is the first time I have seen a Western shootout filmed with a Stedicam.  In case you donít know what that is, just think ďNYPD Blue.Ē  Itís a handheld camera that is slightly shaky, but gives you a closer look at what is being filmed.  Saving Private Ryan had several scenes shot with a Stedicam, and it looked kind of cool in this movie.

Open Range isnít Costnerís worst movie (that honor goes to 3000 Miles to Graceland.)  It isnít even his worst directorial effort (The Postman takes that one.)  Itís just long and boring.  If you are hungering for a Western, I suppose it will do, but it didnít do much for me.  If they had trimmed the movie and gotten rid of the romance, it might have been better.  Oh, and KevinÖtry directing a movie without starring in it next time.  I believe you could be a good director, but for some reason, Iíve never liked your acting.


Get the soundtrack score composed by Michael Kamen:

Get the original Lauran Paine novel that the movie is based upon:

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Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

Wait until it comes out on video...

Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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