Open Range

People tend to malign Kevin Costner, and to a certain degree, they are right. Costner (Dragonfly, 3000 Miles to Graceland) does not have a great sense of discernment when it comes to choosing roles. Moreover, when he directs films, things tend to get out of hand. It feels like he is wallowing in some enlarged sense of self, which causes some of his films to come off as annoying. There are two types of films where this isn't the case, baseball films, and westerns. Here, Costner's decisions tend to be right, making for some good films. Just think, if he were ever to make a film about baseball in the Old West, it would be eithere fantastic or truly abhorrent.

In Open Range, the Old West is dying. Industrialization is creeping across the country, and cowboys are finding facing obsolescence. Two such cowpokes are Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall, Gods and Generals, Assassination Tango) Charley Waite (Costner). They are free range grazers, who, by law, are allowed to graze their cattle on the countryside. A stop in the small town of Harmonville breaks the sense of serenity that Spearman and his crew are feeling. Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon, Charlotte Gray, Gosford Park), a rich cattle baron, has the town in his pocket. He has his own herds, and detests the notion of free grazing. Baxter's men attack Button (Diego Luna, Frida, Y Tu Mama Tambien) and Mose (Abraham Benrubi, The Man Who Wasn't There, War Story), seriously injuring both. Spearman decides to retaliate out of a sense of justice, leading to a classic showdown.

There isn't really anything surprising in Craig Storper's screenplay, based on Lauran Paine's novel. The good guys and bad guys are all familiar characters, and the story goes in no surprising directions. One can predict who the town roots for, although they are all initially wary about Spearman and Waite because of their profound fear for Baxter. What does cause Open Range to stand out is its pacing and fantastic acting. The film starts slowly, with long shots of Spearman and his crew leading their cattle. It's reminds people that life during those times was slower. These are men who may like the solitude their life brings. Spearman is extremely reluctant to challenge Baxter, but his sense of morality forces him to.

Duvall gives a sense of resignation to his role. Spearman realizes his way of life is coming to an end, and he is trying to put off doing something about it. He can be paternal to his workers then switch to deadly rage. Duvall brings his years of experience to the role, and it is outstanding. Costner plays the world-weary Waite. He's quiet and has a past he is reluctant to talk about, and it's no secret this past will rear its ugly head. Gambon still manages to be quite menacing. The only person who doesn't feel quite there is Annette Benning (What Planet Are You From, American Beauty), who plays Costner's love interest. All of the dialogue is a tad on the cheesy side, but hers more so. As the story builds, the action intensifies, leading to an exciting showdown in the streets of Harmonville. Throughout the action, Costner still manages to give his characters a wry sense of humor. It's not a deep film, but it is enjoyable.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 15 minutes, Rated R for violence.

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