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1 item from 2003

Open Range

5 September 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »


Aug. 15

Clearly, Kevin Costner loves Westerns. He returns once more to the genre as director and star of "Open Range", his fourth following a best director Oscar for "Dances With Wolves" and starring roles in "Silverado" and "Wyatt Earp". But he's like a youngster in church, awed by the stained glass and solemn ceremonies. He treats Western vistas and stock characters as icons. He sentimentalizes all the tough-guy emotions and male chivalry toward women folk.

He's a man torn in two. On one hand, he would like to deglamorize the Old West with storms that leave cowboys at their mercy and a hardscrabble town that harkens back to the early Westerns of William S. Hart and, more recently, Robert Altman's "McCabe & Mrs. Miller." On the other, he clings to the old mythology.

Westerns are always iffy boxoffice prospects, especially when, like "Open Range", they come with a ponderous pace and emotions distilled from much older movies. As this one is unlikely to be championed by critics and will attract one of the studios' least favorite demographics -- baby boomer males who remember when horse operas were Hollywood's stable commodity -- the range may stay open only a short while for the Walt Disney Co., which has domestic rights.

"Open Range", written by Craig Storper from a novel by the late Lauran Paine, presents a classic situation. We're somewhere in the Old West -- no territory is ever mentioned -- where a quartet of "free-grazers," headed by the Boss (Robert Duvall) and top hand Charley (Costner), run their herd through a county jealously guarded by Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon), an Irish immigrant cattle rancher. The other two cowboys are mere kids: The hulking Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and a Mexican teen everyone calls Button (Diego Luna) see the trail as one big adventure.

Baxter aims to steal the free-grazers' cattle and snuff out the insignificant cowboys. He doesn't realize -- nor does Boss -- that Charley is a former killer who still "has no problem with killing." Baxter runs roughshod over the entire town, owning virtually everything including its sheriff (James Russo). The townsfolk harbor resentment toward Baxter and his men, especially the stable owner (Michael Jeter), doctor (Dean McDermott) and his old-maid sister Sue (a very deglamorized Annette Bening).

John Ford or Howard Hawks would have handled the buildup to a climatic gunfight with its brief character studies in well under two hours. But Costner extends all this to a wearying 138 minutes, filling his morality tale with too many lengthy silences and butt-scratching pauses, presumably to allow time for the characters' moral rectitude to settle into an audience's consciousness.

Yet in spite of its portentousness, the film does engage one. The actors do fine work, especially Duvall, whose Boss has the gait and demeanor of a weather-beaten man who shies away from town life. Gambon suggests a villain whose villainy is understandable: A foreigner who has built an empire single-handedly, he has nothing in his psychological makeup to handle what he sees as a threat to that empire. However, the less said the better about the romance between Costner's lonesome cowboy and Bening's town spinster or the bits involving a cute puppy.

The main set is a shoddy, rain-drenched marvel, a town so poorly constructed that we understand why cowboys prefer the open range. The gunfight, occupying a good 20 minutes, is convincingly 19th century. Men stand a few feet from each other, hurling lead into bodies to create frightening damage no surgeon can mend. It alone justifies the movie.

Cinematography, costumes and props quietly do their jobs splendidly. If nothing else, the movie reminds us what an elastic and marvelous storytelling opportunity Westerns provide to filmmakers. The genre could stand a revival. Next up is Ron Howard's "The Missing" in December.


Buena Vista Pictures

Touchstone Pictures in association with

Cobalt Media Group present

a Tig production

Credits: Director: Kevin Costner

Screenwriter: Craig Storper

Based on the novel by: Lauran Paine

Producers: David Valdes, Kevin Costner, Jake Eberts

Executive producers: Armyan Bernstein, Craig Storper

Director of photography: James Muro

Production designer: Gae Buckley

Music: Michael Kamen

Costume designer: John Bloomfield

Editors: Michael J. Duthie, Miklos Wright


Boss Spearmana: Robert Duvall

Charley Waite: Kevin Costner

Sue Barlow: Annette Bening

Denton Baxter: Michael Gambon

Percy: Michael Jeter

Mose: Abraham Benrubi

Button: Diego Luna: Sheriff Poole: James Russo

Running time -- 138 minutes

MPAA rating: R »

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1 item from 2003

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