Open Range
Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening
Directed By :
Kevin Costner

Open Range is every bit a classic western. It's all about the attitude and the lifestyle and is almost biopic in its depiction of life in the Old West. The story picks up on Boss Spearman (Duvall) and Charley Waite (Costner) as they drive cattle across the open range with two of their friends. This is a time when the Wild West was trying to become "civilized" and that leads to trouble for Boss and Charley. They come across a small town that's practically owned by an enterprising man named Denton Baxter (played by Michael Gambon). Boss has become accustomed to letting his cattle graze the land as he drives them, eventually selling them at market. Baxter also has a herd, and wants Boss off the local grazing land, although technically it's nobody's land and Boss is within his rights. Baxter is used to getting his way any way he has to, and his actions spur Boss into conflict with the small town as the battleground.

This is a rather long movie (over two hours) and moreover, it's not an action movie. I love action movies, but if you want an action western, check out the excellent Tombstone. This is more of a character drama, and it's charm is in it's straightforwardness. I didn't read the novel the screenplay was adapted from (and I recommend that no one ever read the book before watching the movie), but the dialogue reflects the setting. There are some wonderful speeches in the film by Costner and Duvall, and they capture the equity of words wonderfully. They never say more than they have to in order to get their point across. Costner in particular plays the strong, silent type to the hilt, and when he does speak he has your full attention. His chemistry with Duvall drives the movie, and the scenes with Bening capture that earnest charm that remind us why he's done so well with romances.

The film moves slowly but inexorably towards the showdown we know is coming. The characters gradually commit more to their courses of action and by the end of the movie, the drama and romance and action have all fully bloomed and are let loose in a climactic confrontation. This film is not your typical summer action movie, but it does fit very well into the western genre. The sex and violence are very understated, but no less real, and the final showdown is well worth waiting for. Costner the director delivers a detailed depiction of life in the Old West and everything that goes with it. It might not be for everyone, but if you're a patient moviegoer or even a slight fan of the genre, Open Range is a must see.

It's all in the details: Take note of Abraham Benrubi in a nice supporting role. This guy used to be on ER, and more importantly Parker Lewis Can't Lose. (Also "Olaf the Troll" on Buffy) Man he's gotten big!

- - Jeff Light

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