A/V Room









Open Range (12A)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary with Kevin Costner; 'America’s Open Range' — a historical journey back in time to the real open range of the 1800s, narrated by Kevin Costner; Deleted scenes with commentary by Kevin Costner; Storyboarding: Open Range; Music video montage.

WHEN Kevin Costner does a Western, people tend to sit up and take notice, as the actor has consistently demonstrated a supreme ability to fulfil the requirements of the genre in an honest and often thrilling way.

Take his seminal moment, Dances With Wolves, which won Oscars, despite being dubbed ‘Kevin’s Gate’ during the film-making process, or, to a lesser extent, Wyatt Earp, which provided a stylish, if overlong, insight, into one of the West’s great legends.

Heck, Costner even cut his teeth, when breaking through, in the feel-good Western, Silverado, in which he practically rode in and stole the show from the likes of Kevin Kline, Danny Glover and Scott Glenn.

His latest, Open Range, which marks his third film as director, is a similarly classy affair, an affectionate homage to the classic Westerns of the past, which also possesses the revisionist style of more modern fare, such as Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.

Essentially a two-hander, between Costner and Robert Duvall, the film finds the pair as, respectively, Charley Waite and Boss Spearman, two cattle-men, or ‘free-grazers’, who fall foul of a frontier town’s corrupt sheriff and its powerful rancher, and subsequently making a stand against them.

For both Charley and Boss, the open range represents a refuge from past demons, as well as a place to roam free, and they remain bound to each other by the disappearing ‘code of the West’ - whereby men stand up for what’s right and show loyalty to those closest to them.

When one of their cattlemen is killed, following a protracted run-in with the henchmen of Michael Gambon’s corrupt rancher, and their youngest cow-hand is severely injured, Charley and Boss vow to ‘set things right’, riding to the nearby frontier town to serve their own form of justice on the men they deem responsible.

In so doing, loner, Charley, finds himself falling in love with one of the town’s doctors - Annette Bening’s spirited Sue Barlow - and forced to confront his troubled past, with a view to ‘laying down roots’ for the first time, while Boss begins to consider the possibility of hanging up his own saddle, and running a saloon. But first they must survive their inevitable showdown with Gambon and cohorts…

While certainly nothing new, in terms of structure or content, Open Range works so well for a number of reasons, most notable of which is the chemistry between the central partnership.

This is, first and foremost, Duvall’s movie, and he strides through it with an assured air of authority which plays up to his considerable strengths as an actor, while Costner appears content to sit back and largely play silent for the first half of proceedings.

It makes the impact of what happens in the final third all the more note-worthy, because, by the time the two men face-off against their enemies for the final ‘big gunfight’, you will genuinely find yourself rooting for a satisfactory outcome.

And here, Costner does not disappoint, delivering a brilliantly orchestrated set-piece to rival the likes of Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch, or, more recently, the thrilling showdown of Tombstone.

The only criticism is that Gambon’s sneering rancher isn’t given enough screen-time to conjure an overly memorable villain (unlike Gene Hackman’s turn in Unforgiven), leaving it to James Russo to make the most of his corrupt sheriff, instead.

This is a small niggle, however, in what is otherwise a glorious throwback to a dormant genre, made all the more notable for its hopelessly old-fashioned emphasis on honour, bravery and doing ‘what a man’s gotta do’. Costner can, once again, ride tall in the saddle as a film-maker of genuine worth.

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