Kevin Costner jumps back in the saddle for “Open Range,” a majestic look at the Old West. The “Dances With Wolves” director and star of “Silverado” and “Wyatt Earp" reconnects with the genre that’s served him well in the past. “Open Range” is the nostalgic story of grizzled cowboys, the wide-open beauty of a young country, and the fading days of a way of life. “Open Range” is visually stunning and features an easy to follow plot with strictly defined heroes and villains. While the heroes don’t literally wear white hats, there’s never the slightest doubt whom to root for.
The story follows Charlie Waite (Costner) and Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall), cattlemen who believe in freegrazing (allowing herds of cattle to move freely throughout the country, rather than stay on a ranch). Along with their younger companions, Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and Button (Diego Luna), they move their cattle across the West, never settling in one spot too long and always adhering to the traditions and values moviegoers have come to expect from honest cowboys.
Needing supplies, Mose is sent into the nearest small town and that’s when trouble ensues. The town’s corrupt sheriff is merely the puppet of Denton Baxter, a wealthy rancher who ruthlessly sets the laws for the township. Seems the rancher is anti-freegrazing and will do anything – including commit murder - to keep those who practice that method of feeding out of his territory. Tragic events follow causing Charlie and Boss to take a stand against the rancher, the town’s lawman, and their gang of murderous thugs.
“Open Range” is brutally violent and very much deserving of its ‘R’ rating. Once the showdown between good and evil begins, audiences are in for a beautifully choreographed deadly game of cat and mouse filled with graphic scenes of gun shot victims. Costner the director executes this battle scene without glamorizing violence, without exploitative, unnecessary shots of blood and gore, and with the desire to remain true to the story, the characters, and the history of the Wild West. It’s one of the most visually complete gunfight scenes ever featured in a Western.
The film is very slow-paced, with the crucial gun battle scene the only segment that flows with any urgency. In a summer filled with shoot-em-up action flicks and fast-paced comedies, “Open Range” is a drastic change of pace. Is it a welcome one? In parts, yes. But for large portions of the film, the sluggish pacing works against it. A good deal of the time spent in town building up to the crucial battle seems to be filler material, included only to pad out the movie’s length. The side plot of a romantic alliance between the town doctor’s sister (Annette Bening) and Costner seems intrusive rather than integral to the plot. Costner was smart enough to cast Robert Duvall (delivering yet another great performance), and the relationship between Costner’s ‘Charlie’ and Duvall’s ‘Boss’ should have remained the prime focus of the movie. Instead, the romantic angle takes over and doesn’t feel honest when compared to the rest of the storyline.
At 135 minutes long, “Open Range” could easily have chopped off the last 15-20 minutes and still felt complete (the preview audience, myself included, did a lot of fidgeting in our seats during that time). There’s a break in the flow of the movie after a significant scene and that point would have lent itself to being the end of the movie. Instead, there’s a more contrived ending that doesn’t flow quite as naturally.
Despite these flaws, “Open Range” has a lot going for it. The cinematography is spectacular and Duvall and Costner are fantastic together. “Open Range” is meant for a very specific audience. Costner fans, fans of Westerns, and adults looking for entertainment free of special effects should find something to cheer about in this ode to a bygone era.
"Open Range" is rated R for violence.