Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, Diego Luna, Annette Bening, Michael Jeter, Michael Gambon
The Premise: Two free graze cowboys run afoul of an evil land baron and are forced to seek bloody justice… and maybe love.
Is It Good:
The best Westerns are about the end of something, and Open Range is about the end of an era of particular freedom. Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner are two cowboys who herd cattle across the country, grazing them wherever they find open land. But Michael Gambon’s evil rancher represents the new world of barbed wire and private property, the parceling up of the land that was once just the country. And he’s going to do anything to crush those damned free grazers.
Open Range is a weird egg; the last of Costner’s Westerns, it might also be his best, but the film has never truly gotten its due. The movie is a little schizophrenic – for the first hour or so it feels kind of like Oscar bait, and then it slow burns its way into a terrific and thrilling half hour long gun battle, but maybe that extensive shoot out wasn’t enough to get people through the movie’s leisurely start. I love it, though, and I think that the first forty or so minutes, while they could be condensed, help create a rich world and vibrant characters in an easy-going way that few movies get to do anymore.
That shoot out, by the way, is a classic. It’s got a nice Rio Bravo vibe to it as the ordinary townsfolk start standing up behind the free grazers, and Costner shows that while he really likes doing the big pretty landscape shots, his true directorial talents probably lie in smart, well staged action.
Is It Worth A Look: Without a doubt. Duvall’s performance alone is worth the price of admission, and I love the relationship he and Costner have. It feels real and lived in, but also has the weird distance you’ll get between two men who don’t talk about themselves much. Kim Coates is only in the film briefly, but I love his death scene. And Costner himself manages to craft a character badly in need of a redemption who doesn’t feel like one of his stock SoCal types.
For some reason Dances With Wolves is the Costner Western we’re all supposed to accept as the great one, but I think Open Range is so much better. Besides the fact that it doesn’t have the icky thematic concept of the white savior helping the noble savage, it feels more complete as a piece. Dances With Wolves is a soft-headed paean to something Costner can never be, while Open Range is a more compelling meditation on justice, freedom and second chances.
Random Anecdotes: James Muro, director of one of my favorite movies, Street Trash, is the cinematographer here. Any movie that lets Michael Jeter be an action hero is quite alright by me. Watching Open Range now is weird, as it features Dumbledore as a trigger-happy villain. This was the last movie Kevin Costner directed.
Red River, Unforgiven
Tally So Far