It's 1882, and best friends Charley (Costner) and Boss (Robert Duvall) are cowboys who have lived on the open range for ten years, driving cattle in a world where nature makes the only laws. Roaming the West with them are rambunctious young cowboys Button (Diego Luna), Mose (Abraham Benrubi), and Charley's faithful dog. When a rainstorm strands their wagon, Charley and Boss send Mose to the nearest frontier town to gather additional supplies. When he doesn't return, they decide to take a visit to the town -- with their revolvers at hand -- to search for him.
They discover Mose in jail, bloody and bruised. Charley and Boss rescue Mose and investigate the source of the violence. The townspeople point to the tyrannous Baxter (Michael Gambon), who has it out for cowboys everywhere. Charley and Boss normally abide by the ethics of the West and avoid bloodshed, but when Baxter arranges another cruel act that changes their lives, they are forced into action. Amidst the violence and chaos, Charley and Boss meet the affectionate Sue Barlow (Annette Bening), who offers them shelter and medical assistance and quickly becomes the object of Charley's affection.
Unlike its summer competition, Open Range is a patient film -- it takes its old, sweet time -- but it tests our patience to a maddening degree. Costner abandons many of the tedious conventions of modern Westerns in an attempt to recreate the solid characterizations as seen in classic Westerns. He does so by focusing on details insignificant to the story. Costner has noble intentions, but he only bores us with them. The minor details do not drive the story forward; they only slow the movie down. Life may have moved slowly in the West, but that doesn't mean a movie has to. If you have two hours to live, see this movie -- it will make those two hours seem like two weeks.
Undeniably, Kevin Costner has successfully created an authentic Western here -- but that's not necessarily a good thing. The film is almost too old-fashioned for its own good. The rich, authentic flavor of the film almost instantly becomes obnoxious and preachy. It hammers us with lessons of wisdom that may have been original back in 1882, but nowadays, we don't need--or want--painfully obvious morals about trust and friendship. Example: "A man's trust is a valuable thing. You don't want to lose it over a game of cards." No shit, Sherlock.
The western style seems to come effortlessly to Irishman Michael Gambon and Robert Duvall (let's face it, he's just a naturally cowboy). They deliver the film's standout performances. Gambon is as menacingly evil as any western villain that I can remember. He commits to the character totally, without wit or apology. Duvall and Gambon bring a lot of conviction to the movie, but Open Range focuses more on the romantic subplot with Charley and Sue. Unfortunately, Costner and Bening lack chemistry and conviction, even given the unconventional nature of their relationship. They never seem to quite get the hang of the style of the film, either. In other words, they are fish out of water.
Open Range does eventually lead up to an intense climatic gunfight -- but the compelling third act stands worlds apart from the tedious pacing of the rest of the movie. The gunfight is not a traditional glamorous Hollywood Western showdown. There's no slow motion, blood, or close-ups. Instead, it's quick, coarse, and disturbing. Costner perceives violence like people actually see violence, in brief wisps, sometimes from a distance. He proves that he is still capable with the film's gripping, unforgettable finale, but the rest of Open Range doesn't deserve a showdown of this stature.
So go see some other movie and sneak into Open Range for the last twenty minutes. That way, you get a leaner piece of meat for your money -- all the flavor, but without all the excess fat -- and believe me, there's a whole lot of it.
You can jump right to the end on the Open Range DVD, which adds a commentary from Costner plus a second disc of extras -- deleted scenes, storyboards, Costner's "director's journal," and a short feature about life in the 1800s called America's Open Range.
Stop us if you've seen this one.
Run time: 139 mins
In Theaters: Friday 15th August 2003
Box Office USA: $58.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $68.3M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Tig Productions, Touchstone Pictures, Cobalt Media Group, Beacon Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Fresh: 142 Rotten: 37
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Director: Kevin Costner
Screenwriter: Craig Storper
Starring: Kevin Costner as Charley Waite, Robert Duvall as Boss Spearman, Michael Gambon as Denton Baxter, Michael Jeter as Percy, Diego Luna as Button, James Russo as Sheriff Poole, Abraham Benrubi as Mose, Kim Coates as Butler, Annette Bening as Sue Barlow, Dean McDermott as Doc Barlow, Herb Kohler as Cafe Man, Peter MacNeill as Mack, Cliff Saunders as Ralph, Patricia Stutz as Ralph's Wife, Julian Richings as Wylie