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Awesome: 32.8%
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8 reviews, 77 user ratings

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Open Range
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by David Cornelius

"Among the very best westerns, either new or old."
5 stars

It’s easy to forget that the reason Kevin Costner has become a punchline over the past few years isn’t due to a lack of talent, but a series of bad decisions. Costner tried to venture out into the unusual, with extremely ill-fitting results. (What’s such a regular Joe like him doing in bizarro sci-fi epics like “Waterworld” and “The Postman?”) When he tried to return to his old self, he just wasn’t picking the right projects; “For the Love of the Game,” for example, reminded us that we like watching the guy in sports movies, but the story just wasn’t there. Despite the occasional success, it seemed Costner, as we once knew him, would never be back.

This is why it’s such a pleasant surprise that “Open Range” is more than a good movie - it’s a great movie. With Costner directing as well as acting, the star finally lands a picture that just feels right. It’s a grand old western the way they used to make ’em, simple and elegant and cool and dusty and marvelous. But more importantly, while watching the film, I kept thinking how natural Costner looked in his cowboy getup, and how the filmmaker and the epic western go hand in hand. It’s the right fit.

“Open Range,” adapted from the novel by Lauran Paine and scripted by Craig Storper, is a gloriously old-fashioned oater, the kind Louis L’Amour would write in his spare time, in which good guys stroll into a bad town and make things right. The good guys here are Boss (Robert Duvall) and Charley (Costner), cattle drivers moving their herd across the majestic plains of the American West, circa 1882. They’re free grazers, letting their cattle eat and rest wherever’s under open skies; it’s legal to do so, but frowned upon by the folks of Harmonville. And it just so happens that the cowboys are setting up camp on land owned by Harmonville’s wealthiest (and therefore most powerful) resident, Mr. Baxter (Michael Gambon).

Needless to say, Baxter and his men make their moves, Boss and Charley make their own, there are shootouts and tough talk and people fleeing from Main Street. In this aspect, “Open Range” is brutal, slick, and everything cool we love about westerns.

This is especially noticeable in Duvall, who, like his co-star, seems not like a movie star playing cowboy, but the real deal. His role here is another perfect fit. When the aging star lays down his own form of justice, we cheer, partly because the bad guys deserve it, but mostly because Boss does it with such rugged style that it becomes complete, unadulterated cool. Watch as Boss cracks a baddie upside the head, then spits, “You listen out of your good ear.”

There’s a lot of manly cool in “Open Range,” which builds toward an explosive climax that tops the shootout in “Tombstone.” Charley spends the film letting his rage bubble up to the top, and when bullets start flying, it’s a release of fury that literally makes the sky shake: every gunshot echoes with such power that it sounds like the thunder of a Norse god.

But while “Open Range” is a powerful example of western toughness, it’s also quite gentle. The film is less a generic genre tale than it is a deep look at male friendship. Boss and Charley have been riding together for ten years, and they joke about how they act like an old married couple. They are both men with a deeply rooted sense of honor and chivalry, true gentlemen in every sense of the word, like knights in stirrups.

The movie’s heart extends to two other relationships. Boss keeps such a careful eye on Button (Diego Luna), the Mexican boy hired as cook and cowhand, that while it’s unsaid by either, we know that it’s a father-son relationship. Button is wounded by Baxter’s men, and the pain in Boss’ heart extends to the audience.

Meanwhile, Charley has found himself falling in love with local spinster Sue (Annette Bening), both of whom have given up on love long ago. Their growing love is quiet and tender, and you can see in Costner’s eyes a man who doesn’t quite know what to do with this emotion he’s kept buried for so long.

The romance in “Open Range” is quite beautiful, so when Charley, a man who hoped to leave a secret, violent past behind him, is forced to become violent once again, the story plays out like “Unforgiven” with a love story. It doesn’t sound like a good idea - how can Eastwood’s dark tale of vengeance and redemption find room for light romance? - and yet it works. Costner balances the violence of the situation with the warmth of the characters’ hearts, understanding that these are bad men turned good who must then do bad things for the greater good, if you follow me.

There’s a brilliant scene in which Charley looks over the town and sees the death and destruction his form of vengeance has brought. Other cowboys in other movies wouldn’t even notice, but you get the idea that such violence will haunt Charley for the rest of his life.

And that’s why “Open Range” is arguably the best western made since Eastwood’s Oscar winner. This is more than a gritty shoot-’em-up or a lush widescreen spectacle or an old-fashioned romance. It’s all three. It’s mean and sweet, gorgeous and grimy. It’s an adventure not afraid to spend time examining its characters, and it’s a drama not afraid to add the punch of action. It’s a grown-up tale with something for everybody. And yes, it’s the mark of a glorious return for Costner to great epic filmmaking.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8074&reviewer=392
originally posted: 02/19/07 00:27:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell good western 4 stars
1/15/12 John Great scenery and story, overlong gunfight. 5 stars
2/19/11 Ark Damned decent, didn't suck like most of Costner's other crap! 4 stars
5/04/09 the dork knight There Will Be Duvall. 5 stars
12/05/08 Michelle Loved it..thats for sticking with it thorough the battles Kevin! 4 stars
11/22/08 Goodman not the epic that Kevin hoped for 3 stars
11/20/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 4 stars
6/12/07 al smith amazing the best gun fight ever.costner is a great director 5 stars
2/22/07 Weblynx I loved this , great actors 5 stars
2/12/07 R.W.Welch Above average oater, despite overblown gunfight. Duvall is aces. 4 stars
6/24/06 MP Bartley The Untouchables replanted to the old west. That is a good thing by the way. 5 stars
3/11/06 daveyt good cinematography, looked and felt real. Duvall excellent... 4 stars
1/07/06 Daveman Engaging drama, beautiful photography, unusually good performance from Costner of all peopl 4 stars
11/11/05 Danielle Cordova Open Range seems to be a modern day western. Costner did a trimendous job. I watch 24/7 5 stars
10/15/05 Quigley the end gunfight was way overrated and not cool. costner was lame, but duvall redeemed all. 3 stars
10/07/05 Jonathon Holmes one of the 10 best films of the year 5 stars
9/24/05 David Jones Slow in the right way. 4 stars
9/08/05 Tom Burns An enjoyable western. 4 stars
8/25/05 Michael Good Movie 5 stars
8/02/05 ALDO Poorly written disappointment with lots of bullshit backstory dialogue. Best gunfight ever 3 stars
6/02/05 Steve Newman too slow BUT the scenery is breathtaking. I did enjoy it - cut off 30 mins please 3 stars
2/04/05 Carolyn Rathburn Loved it truistic for the time. 5 stars
1/04/05 Lord Jiggy Classic in so many ways...just a few missteps, but the antidote to swill like Van Helsing 5 stars
11/27/04 smilesx the worst video i've seen since red dawn. 1 stars
10/27/04 Carolyn Metz I really enjoy seeing this on the big screen. Love the scenery. 4 stars
9/10/04 Edler A great western. And I really am not a fan of Costner. 5 stars
8/24/04 Stevie Y. A beautiful movie in every respect. A dead-on story line. A sweet, heartwarming romance. 5 stars
8/14/04 dfdea 4 stars for Western Appreciators, 3 stars for the average filmgoer 4 stars
8/06/04 Mike Great movie. 4 stars
8/01/04 DJ Great movie!!!!!!!!! 4 stars
7/17/04 axe westerns are silly no longer, thanks to this one 5 stars
7/11/04 Ingo Unique tone, great actors, albeit a little too long. 4 stars
3/25/04 rojo Best Western since Unforgiven. 5 stars
3/20/04 bruce miller good western...predictable 4 stars
3/20/04 Linda Ellis Great movie! 5 stars
3/18/04 rachel burke it was a little draen out 3 stars
3/14/04 Lord Jiggy Curse me for a moral failure, I really enjoyed this film. It built to an end. 5 stars
3/13/04 Chief Dan George the Third Fuck this. "The Oulaw Josey Wales = The Greatest Goddamn Western ever made" 2 stars
2/27/04 william pathetically inane....clipping my toes are more photogenic and interesting...bad tv series 1 stars
2/23/04 LMW Really wanted to like it but couldn't. . .Mind numbing tedium. . . 1 stars
2/21/04 CARRIE good movie...the humorous parts helped alot 5 stars
2/16/04 jj an outstanding western with excellent sound effects!!! 5 stars
2/15/04 Jack Duvall's performance is fantastic. The script is somewhat ponderous. 4 stars
1/26/04 twodogs Good acting, Good gunfight scene,predictable ending 4 stars
1/21/04 Abe Giesbrecht Honest, and refreshing 5 stars
1/20/04 Betty White Either u love it, in which you look over its flaws, or it leaves u cold. 4 stars
1/19/04 Walter Lorenz Boring, flat and unengaging from beginning to end. Seen it all and better. 3 stars
11/28/03 john a great western with a honest story - the shootout alone is worth the price of admission 5 stars
11/05/03 Green Beret Packers Costner & Bening break new ground; Duvall his usual solid self. 4 stars
10/07/03 Erik Van Sant At last, Costner proves the only way he doesn't suck is when he does a period piece. 5 stars
9/25/03 malcolm 4-star, despite Costner, i got one word for u, KC: inflection! 4 stars
9/18/03 April Malan Wonderful, exciting, great! I loved it, one of the best of the summer. 5 stars
9/17/03 DICK Can't touch Lonsome Dove, but it as real as a western gets 5 stars
9/16/03 William H. Collins Despite the slow start,the movie is well worth the wait. 4 stars
9/10/03 Buck A damn solid Kevin Costner movie. Needs some trimming, but gorgeous and refreshingly simple 4 stars
9/08/03 leper3 meditative, elegaic and powerful 5 stars
9/04/03 KingNeutron Pretty good overall, gun effects were GOOD but film needed more EDITING espec in beginning 4 stars
9/02/03 geo. c. flora beautiful and outstanding 5 stars
8/31/03 Suzanne Paul Zimmerman is an idiot 5 stars
8/25/03 Benita Hume really enjoyed it 4 stars
8/25/03 jean a beautifully filmed,very well -acted movie with many unforgettable scenes 5 stars
8/24/03 Ahnold Took too long getting to action. But still worth look (matinee price only) 4 stars
8/24/03 Desperado Good acting by Duvall and Costner make this movie a cant miss 5 stars
8/24/03 Michael hall I'd clean the cow shit off my boots with the DVD 1 stars
8/23/03 K R Stilwell Loved it! 5 stars
8/22/03 Joe Beautifully done. It's about time Costner had a hit. 4 stars
8/20/03 Jack Bourbon Costner isn't so bad sometimes 4 stars
8/18/03 J. Brande Costner is back with a vengeance with a beautiful, riveting film. Tremendous Duvall 5 stars
8/17/03 Belinda Adams Robert Duvall is brilliant. OSCAR-worthy 5 stars
8/17/03 Ethan Costner in top form! 5 stars
8/17/03 Reese Witherspoon suckzzzzz Good, but loses it in final half hour (and the movie is too long anyway) 3 stars
8/16/03 John Zelk Duvall is incredible. He deserves a BEST ACTOR nomination OSCAR. 5 stars
8/15/03 FlaFan Terrific movie 5 stars
8/15/03 Dr. Bitterpants IGNORE Paul "shorter is better" Zimmerman's pallid review -- this is a great film! 4 stars
8/14/03 James Mathews Costner is back riding high in the saddle. Easily movie of the summer and year to date! 5 stars
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  15-Aug-2003 (R)
  DVD: 20-Jan-2004



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