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USA 2003
Directed by
Kevin Costner
135 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Open Range

In the late 1880s the American West “free grazers” still drove their cattle on open land and lived a nomadic, almost subsistence, existence but this was changing as ranchers were beginning to privatize the land.  Charley Waite (Kevin Costner) has ridden for nearly ten years with Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall). Together with Button (Diego Luna) and Mose (Abraham Benrubi) they enjoys a freedom that allows them to escape their pasts and binds them together in a code of loyalty and dedication to “living right”. That is until they run up against the town of Harmonville and its ruthless rancher Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon) who intimidates the locals and has Sheriff Poole (James Russo) in his pocket. Life-changing confrontation is in the wind, as well as potential romance with the strong-minded doctor’s assistant, Sue Barlow (Annette Bening).

Open Range adheres to the Western’s recurring themes but with one startling departure: instead of showing the cowboys as macho types we see into their emotions and vulnerabilities - qualities that will speak to many men today. Even the gun fights seem far more believable to to a modern sensibilityt han in the classic Westerns style.

Costner has not enthralled me with many of his roles since Dances with Wolves but here he acquits himself wonderfully. Charley’s torment over his past, along with added touches of awkwardness (especially concerning mud on carpets and china tea-sets), only make his character all the more endearing and credible. Duvall brings the perfect blend of strength, decency, father-figure compassion and fearlessness to make his character worthy of the respect his men all give him. His relationship with Charley is at the heart of the film, and the ability of both men to reinvent themselves is inspiring. Annette Bening’s Sue is also a worthy departure from the submissive female roles in many Westerns. She brings a quiet but determined strength to her role and gives us a really believable female character.

Shot in the Rocky Mountains of Canada, each panoramic sweep of the camera is glorious, as is the film’s more detailed photography of nature’s splendours. The production also relishes in creating its realistic effects, especially the depiction of relentless rain that contributes to the lead-up to the grand showdown. So, despite this being a long film, why not just get on your horse and revel in the return of a much-loved genre, in a newly accessible form.




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