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Open Range (R)
Official Site
Director: Kevin Costner
Producers: Kevin Costner, David Valdes, Craig Storper, Jake Eberts
Written by: Craig Storper; from the novel by Lauran Paine
Cast: Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, Abraham Benrubi, Robert Duvall, Michael Gambon, Michael Jeter, Diego Luna, James Russo

Rating: out of 5

The western used to be a staple of Hollywood with the movie industry turning out a new one every few days for most of the first 50 years of cinema. But since the liberalization of the film industry in the í60s, the western has been a declining art form. Fortunately, if you enjoy westerns, the smaller number being produced has resulted in a higher overall quality. Open Range is a prime example of this.

Kevin Costner, who produced, stars in, and directed Open Range, has a love affair with the American west that comes across beautifully here. The cinematography is spectacular. Itís not just the wide open prairies that are breath-takingóalmost anyone filming them can do wellóbut the way the main town is brought to life. Itís far more than a back lot and the richness of the setting adds tremendously to the feel of the movie.

Making a pretty movie does not necessarily mean youíve made a good film though. It takes a solid plot and the ability to stick with it, and this is where Open Range excels. At its heart the movie is about change, the exiting of one way of life and the introduction of a new way. In this case, itís the ending of free range cattle and the coming dominance of barbed wire fences and land barons. The conflict between these two similar but philosophically opposed groups is a seldom-told tale that offers no clear-cut good guy or bad guy. Costner chooses to cast the land owner as the villain in this version of the story but it could easily have been told from the other perspective.

The plot itself is fairly simple and does not need its 135-minute running time, but instead of filling the intervening moments with pointless action sequences, we are treated to some of the best character development you can see. Costner plays Charlie Waite, a partner and protege to Robert Duvallís Boss Spearman. They have been riding the range together, following their herd, for 10 years and have a simple relationship built upon mutual trust and respect. They ride with two other hands, Mose (Benrubi, of ďE.R.Ē fame) and Button (Luna), who are less experienced but are gaining the trust of the two senior riders. The cramped living quarters and long hours make them a close-knit group, but also put them at each otherís throats. Each one of them is a man with a history. Unlike many cardboard cutouts seen in some westerns, they are easily believable as people and not just characters on the screen.

In contrast to the excellent portrayal of the good guys/ free rangers is the heavy handedness with which the villains/ranchers are portrayed. While Costner and Duvall are basically good men with flaws, Michael Gambonís Denton Baxter and James Russoís Sheriff Poole are bad men without any trace of good in them. Whether this is done to make the film less morally ambiguous or to help the average moviegoer pick sides is unclear but their one-dimensionality is the only real flaw in the film. Often the best role in a movie is that of lead villain, but thatís for a white hat vs. black hat movie where the villain is expected to be, well, villainous. The characters here all have shades of grey, which makes the evil actions of Baxter appear out of place.

The film also has the late Michael Jeter as a good-natured and gossipy stable owner and Annette Bening as a doctorís assistant and Costnerís inevitable love interest. The development of the relationship between Costner and Bening, while just a subplot, is handled with as much care as the rest of the film. They do not fly into each otherís arms even though their mutual attraction is obvious. The actions are believable and the building of their relationship adds weight to the climactic fight. The climactic fight is another thing that separates Open Range from most other movies. Even though itís pretty much the only fight in the movie, itís masterfully done. It is gritty and realistic, putting it in the same league as Unforgiven and The Wild Bunch. From the reaction of the townspeople, the pre-fight revelations of the main characters, the suddenness and finality of encounters, to the moral dilemmas in brief moments of clarityóit is all handled with deft brush strokes.

Who should see this movie? If you enjoy westerns, you will be treated to one of the best to come around in a long time. The action, while mostly limited to the final reel, should please almost anyoneójust expect to watch a good story while you wait to get there. If you need romance in your movies, the budding relationship between Costner and Bening simmers wellójust donít expect sparks to fly every time they meet. The best thing I can say about the movie is that it would work well in almost any setting. Itís driven by great characters and has something in it to appeal to almost any movie fan.

óGlen Bucher


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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