Open Range

Rated: R
Stars: Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, Annette Bening, Michael Gambon, Michael Jeter, Diego Luna
Director: Kevin Costner
Screenwriter: Craig Storper, based on the novel The Open Range Menby Lauran Paine.

This tale of free-range cowboys who brush against a small town’s cattle baron who lords it over everyone else, and live to tell about it, aspires to be a great western. And it’s pretty close to being just that. What it has to offer is a good story with very strong characters, some really believable dialogue, and one helluva realistic gunfight. In fact, I loved it.

Kevin Costner plays Charley Waite who works under Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall), two of the west’s last free-rangers, who move their cattle across country and allow them to graze on other people’s land – the way it was before cattle barons and their damned barbed wire fences. Michael Gambon plays Denton Baxter, just one such cattle king who owns the town nearby and the land where Charley and Boss have bedded down their cattle one stormy night. The men’s paths cross in that town with Baxter giving them the ultimatum to move on, fast, or lose everything, including their lives.

Charley and Boss are good men. After some of Baxter’s men raid their camp, killing one companion and injuring a young boy Button (Diego Luna) who works with them, Charley and Boss must seek help back at the town, which sets up the drama for an impending gunfight that builds nicely. While attending to the boy, Charley and Boss make the acquaintance of a kindly and very pretty nurse Sue Barlow (Annette Bening) whose brother is the town doctor. There is an immediate attraction between Charley and Sue and we get to wait that out too. The film doesn’t try to squeeze an instant romance into its frames; it allows all dramatic elements to develop naturally as they would tend to do in the real world. And that goes for the secrets it reveals about Charley’s and Boss’ characters.

When the time comes for good men to take on the bad ones, great care is taken with the formation of a few alliances among the townspeople: for example, Michael Jeter in one of his last performances as Percy, a stable owner lends a hand along with some mild humor. The deadly gunfight is one of the most thought out and best I’ve seen. And when the time comes for the romance kicks in, it is still quite restrained yet satisfying.

Lotta says:
I liked Open Range a lot. It has in it some of the most beautiful western scenery and is beautifully photographed. Great realism: the confines of the cafe and saloon in the town were just right – they really were small places in those days, the problems caused by rain and mud, the actions of the townspeople when faced with trouble. I loved Charley’s and Boss’ values – out for justice not revenge. I liked the fact that Sue wasn’t played by some really young actress. Bening has some mileage on her and it showed. I loved Duvall’s performance – no matter what the dialogue, he made it sound right. As for Costner, good performance, fine directorial touches all around. A-plus. Also features: James Russo as Sheriff Poole, Abraham Benrubi as Mose and Dean McDermott as Doc Barlow. Rated R for violence.

Reviewed 8/20/03