Combustible Celluloid
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
Get the Poster
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, Robert Duvall, Michael Gambon, Michael Jeter, Diego Luna, James Russo, Dean McDermott, Kim Coates, Abraham Benrubi
Written by: Craig Storper, based on a novel by Lauran Paine
Directed by: Kevin Costner
MPAA Rating: R for violence
Running Time: 139
Date: 08/11/2003

Open Range (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Range' of Heart

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The most surprising thing about Kevin Costner's new Western Open Range is that it's so low-key. It's what Andrew Sarris called a "bread-and-butter" Western as opposed to a "blue ribbon" Western.

A "blue ribbon" Western comes out of the starting gate with a respectable pedigree and usually goes on to earn a kind of proper awe and respect, such as films like High Noon and Costner's own Dances With Wolves.

But a "bread-and-butter" Western is the real thing, the kind of dime-store shoot 'em-up that real fans went to see on Saturday afternoons, munching popcorn and making "pow" noises while ducking behind the seats, aiming fingers at the screen. Great "bread-and-butter" Westerns include Rio Bravo, The Far Country, Ride Lonesome and A Fistful of Dollars.

Even more surprising is that Costner, who always occupies the direct center of his films, stepped aside and gave the movie's most interesting role to Robert Duvall, who takes it and gives it an Oscar-worthy zing. He's so constantly superb that you want to applaud all the way through.

Duvall plays Boss Spearman, an old-time cattleman who roams the West looking for new patches of grazing land. Costner plays Charley Waite, Boss' most long-term and dependable hand. The rest of their crew includes the enormous, gentle Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and the scrappy Mexican youth Button (Diego Luna).

When their unit moves too close to a cattle baron's small town, the bad guy throws Mose in jail and attacks the rest of the encampment. After spending time with a doctor's pretty sister (Annette Bening), Charley and Boss quietly accept their fate and set out for revenge.

The final shootout belongs in the Western pantheon with the poetic, anti-heroic shootouts in Anthony Mann's The Far Country and Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Its muddy, slow and sneaky action carries a heavy weight. You really feel this fight. It's lyrical but exciting at the same time, making most of this summer's juvenile action movies look pathetic.

Perhaps taking a cue from Clint Eastwood (with whom Costner worked in the underrated A Perfect World), Costner the director gives the movie a laconic, sweeping mood. It admires the beautiful, rolling landscapes, but gives them an emotional weight. Indeed, the settings almost "speak" more often and more clearly than the strong, silent characters do.

Open Range does prattle on a bit too long, taking a few too many bows after that amazing climactic set piece. But it's a terrific, mature departure for Costner as a filmmaker, and ranks among his very best work.

Movies Unlimtied