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OPEN RANGE

SYNOPSIS:
Charley (Kevin Costner), the older Boss (Robert Duvall), the oversized Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and 16 year old Button (Diego Luna) are driving their cattle across the prairie, the last of the freegrazers. It’s 1882 and change is in the air in the wild West, as new landowners grow increasingly resentful of these cowboys. Trouble breaks out when the small group comes across the lands around Harmonville. The local Marshall is on the payroll of Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon) whose men beat up first Mose and then Button, in an attempt to drive them out of the area. But Boss and Charlie, with the emotional support of the local doctor’s sister, Nurse Sue (Annette Bening), take a stand.


Review by Louise Keller:
Thoroughly enjoyable and involving, Kevin Costner’s Open Range is a beautifully made western about flawed heroes who believe in redemption, loyalty and respect. Despite plenty of gunfire and an anti-hero who ‘has no problem with killing’, the film has an appealing gentleness about it, leaving us with a surprising sense of serenity. It’s more than the genre that makes it seem like an old fashioned film: the cinematography is breathtaking, showcasing the wide-open landscapes and dusty frontier towns, making them feel very real. 

Adapted from a novel by Lauran Paine, Costner judges the material perfectly, delivering his best film since Dances With Wolves. He has cast the film perfectly too, including his own role as a man haunted by his past, and intent on redemption. Robert Duvall’s Boss Spearman is a man who knows himself absolutely. He has no illusions about himself, but he makes no apologies either, as he sets out to protect his own and his rights. He has had a great influence on Costner’s Charley, to whom he has been a father figure.

The heart of the film lies between the relationship between Duvall’s ‘Boss’ and Costner’s Charley. Although they have been together nearly ten years, until now, they have never shared secrets about their past. It’s as if details – like their real names – just didn’t matter. We learn much about these two men of few words, who trust each other implicitly as their relationship changes to become that of equals and friends.

The development of the love story between Charley and Annette Bening’s Sue is handled with great restraint and finesse. Bening brings so much to the role far and beyond the script. With a gun in his hand, Charley is so confident, yet he is so shy and hesitant when it comes to matters of the heart. There’s an intensely sweet moment when Charley asks Sue’s permission to kiss her, displaying such a contradiction to his forthright manner in all other areas of his life. But long before the kiss, there’s a lovely scene when an embarrassed Charley apologises that his fingers are too large to hold the handle of a delicate porcelain tea-cup into which Sue has poured tea.

Michael Gambon’s ruthless and villainous Baxter is a great adversary, and there is plenty of tension as the count-down to the inevitable shoot out begins. It’s an exciting action piece with plenty of gunfire, and a fitting climax to the story. 

But it’s the establishment in the first vital scenes of the film, that draw us most of all to the characters. They are like a family, playing cards by the campfire, rolling up their sleeping bags, playfully clowning around, and it is clear that they consider their loyal dog, their very best friend.

It’s a great pity that more westerns aren’t made these days, especially if they are as enjoyable as this one.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
From the old fashioned font of the opening credits to the old fashioned pastoral score, Open Range is an old fashioned movie, paying tribute to the clichees of the Western, romanticising the free range men or freegrazers whose era was coming to an end in the 1880s. Unfortunately, this also means romanticising the violent gunfights, and in the post Bowling For Columbine era, the film is on rocky ground trying to make the good guys look good. 

But it does do that, mostly thanks to Michael Gambon’s portrayal of the “ruthless, evil rancher” who controls the new little village of Harmonville. If we couldn’t boo-hiss this character, Kevin Costner’s cold bloodied killer, Charley Waite, would seem less the clear cut goodie. 

This confrontation of the freegrazers, represented by Charley Wait and his trail ‘boss’ Boss (Robert Duvall), and the new ranchers who own the land on which the freegrazers used to herd cattle freely, is made to seem like the pursuit of “freedom, justice, honour and friendship” as the filmmakers put it. But it doesn’t really pan out that way.

If America’s gun culture wasn’t born and bred in the West, you’d never know it; the arguments are won by the traditional gunfights of the old fashioned Western, now made even more romantically graphic by modern moviemaking techniques.

Based on a novel, the movie has the benefit of rounded characters and a well developed storyline. It also boasts a top cast which helps it over the hill of its politically incorrect – and the genuinely morally questionable – downsides. But you have to be seduced by the grandeur of the images of wide open spaces to forget that the film’s themes are actually not about freedom or freegrazing – but about pride. That’s the negative flipside of honour, if you like, and more in evidence than genuine honour.

There is plenty of corn in Open Range, but it’s well treated corn, far too beautiful to look at (in the ugly circumstances) and yet so painstakingly put together, so sincere in its intentions that it’s difficult not to admire it. Entertaining? Sure.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

OPEN RANGE (M)
(US/Germany)

CAST: Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, Michael Gambon, Michael Jeter, Diego Luna, James Russo, Abraham Benrubi, Dean McDermott, Kim Coates

PRODUCER: Kevin Costner, Jake Eberts, David Valdes

DIRECTOR: Kevin Costner

SCRIPT: Craig Storper (novel by Lauran Paine)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: James Muro

EDITOR: Michael J. Duthie, Miklos Wrigh

MUSIC: Michael Kamen

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Gae S. Buckley

RUNNING TIME: 139 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 12, 2004

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: June 17, 2004







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