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Overall Rating

Awesome: 32.8%
Worth A Look46.4%
Average: 6.4%
Pretty Bad: 11.2%
Total Crap: 3.2%

8 reviews, 77 user ratings

Open Range
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by EricDSnider

"The high cost of letting Costner act."
4 stars

Of the 10 films in the past decade that Kevin Costner has starred in, only two have recouped their budget at the box office, and those only barely. (”Message in a Bottle” cost $30 million and made $53 million; “Tin Cup” cost $45 million and made $54 million.) After several successes early on, his career since “The Bodyguard” (1992) has consisted almost exclusively of flops.

Now, you can come up with any number of explanations for this, but the most sensible, obvious one is that the man simply cannot act. He is wooden and passionless. This has worked for the similarly challenged Keanu Reeves in the “Matrix” films, because that role needs a certain amount of detachment and obliviousness. But Costner keeps insisting on playing damaged, grieving men, or men with painful histories -- characters he just isn’t equipped to play convincingly. He ought to be cast as corpses, or as furniture, not as people with complex emotions.

I bring it up because Costner’s blazing mediocrity is the only thing keeping “Open Range” from being a five-star, grade-A movie. He plays a cowboy in 1882, but everytime he says something like “nigh on 10 years” or “rustle up some grub,” I am pulled out of the film and reminded that I am watching not a real person, but an actor badly impersonating a real person.

Costner’s performance is made to seem even more acutely bland when it is compared to that of Robert Duvall; such a comparison is inevitable, because they are in almost every scene together. Duvall plays Boss Spearman, an old coot of a cattleman who, with Costner’s Charley Waite and two hired hands, leads a herd of free-grazing cattle across the American West. Duvall, who at 72 is as spry and indefatigable as many actors 25 years younger, is a force of nature as Boss. He exudes quiet determination, a certain resignation to the vagaries of frontier life, and a spark of hope for the future. There is no crack in the facade, no sign Duvall is acting; he simply IS Boss Spearman.

Boss and Charley’s two hired hands are Button (Diego Luna), a young Mexican boy they rescued from a beggar’s life in Texas, and Mose (Abraham Benrubi), a giant teddy bear of a man who never hurt anybody. While in town to pick up supplies, Mose runs afoul of the local sheriff (James Russo), who is under orders from the town’s REAL boss, wealthy rancher Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon), to give free-grazers like Boss and company as much trouble as possible.

Baxter is a new breed of cattleman, the kind who build ranches rather than leading the herd all over the land and letting them eat wherever they want. Boss is of the old school. He isn’t breaking any laws in free-grazing, but this is the Old West, and laws aren’t always a local lawman’s first priority, especially when he’s in the pocket of a powerful businessman.

Some violence occurs, and it becomes necessary for Boss and his crew to leave the cattle out on the range and head into town in search of justice. Charley, a former Civil War sharpshooter and hired gun, sees little difference between justice and vengeance, but Boss, who wears kindliness and gentility beneath his frontiersman exterior, is wiser.

Costner’s direction, like his acting, is minimalistic; with the directing, though, that’s what the film needs. It’s quiet and understated, with an elegiac (but not too somber) feel. Events simply occur; they are not heralded with fanfare, catchy editing or a loud musical score. The most pivotal action occurs with no music at all, in fact, and only as much editing as is necessary to tell the story.

The film has a 10-minute resolution following the climax, and it is there that Costner’s low-level performance becomes especially problematic. Up to that point, Boss has been so much more interesting than Charley that we believe the film is about him. Now comes the denouement, when we realize Costner thought Charley was the focus. Indeed, Craig Storper’s script (based on the novel by Lauran Paine) gives clues this was the intention all along. Charley has a speech early on detailing his questionable past, and had this been delivered with some level of commitment on the part of the actor, it may have resonated enough to keep Charley at the forefront of our concerns, not the rear.

In many ways, “Open Range” recalls the anti-violence message of Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” (1992). It certainly hearkens back to the old Westerns, albeit it with bloodier violence (that being the point, of course: When a man gets shot, he really does bleed, contrary to what John Wayne films may have suggested). Fittingly, the romantic subplot involving Charley and the town doctor’s assistant Sue (Annette Bening) feels obligatory; women always seemed like afterthoughts in the Westerns of yesteryear. It doesn’t seem like a liability here so much as an homage.

Costner aside, it is a very nice film, eminently watchable and praiseworthy. Old-fashioned things like honor and trust are at play, and we as an audience are hopefully introspective enough to realize that when it comes to film entertainment, we, like Charley, often see little difference between justice and vengeance.

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originally posted: 08/16/03 09:43:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell good western 4 stars
1/16/12 John Great scenery and story, overlong gunfight. 5 stars
2/20/11 Ark Damned decent, didn't suck like most of Costner's other crap! 4 stars
5/05/09 the dork knight There Will Be Duvall. 5 stars
12/06/08 Michelle Loved it..thats for sticking with it thorough the battles Kevin! 4 stars
11/23/08 Goodman not the epic that Kevin hoped for 3 stars
11/21/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 4 stars
6/13/07 al smith amazing the best gun fight ever.costner is a great director 5 stars
2/23/07 Weblynx I loved this , great actors 5 stars
2/13/07 R.W.Welch Above average oater, despite overblown gunfight. Duvall is aces. 4 stars
6/25/06 MP Bartley The Untouchables replanted to the old west. That is a good thing by the way. 5 stars
3/12/06 daveyt good cinematography, looked and felt real. Duvall excellent... 4 stars
1/08/06 Daveman Engaging drama, beautiful photography, unusually good performance from Costner of all peopl 4 stars
11/12/05 Danielle Cordova Open Range seems to be a modern day western. Costner did a trimendous job. I watch 24/7 5 stars
10/16/05 Quigley the end gunfight was way overrated and not cool. costner was lame, but duvall redeemed all. 3 stars
10/08/05 Jonathon Holmes one of the 10 best films of the year 5 stars
9/25/05 David Jones Slow in the right way. 4 stars
9/09/05 Tom Burns An enjoyable western. 4 stars
8/26/05 Michael Good Movie 5 stars
8/03/05 ALDO Poorly written disappointment with lots of bullshit backstory dialogue. Best gunfight ever 3 stars
6/03/05 Steve Newman too slow BUT the scenery is breathtaking. I did enjoy it - cut off 30 mins please 3 stars
2/05/05 Carolyn Rathburn Loved it truistic for the time. 5 stars
1/05/05 Lord Jiggy Classic in so many ways...just a few missteps, but the antidote to swill like Van Helsing 5 stars
11/28/04 smilesx the worst video i've seen since red dawn. 1 stars
10/27/04 Carolyn Metz I really enjoy seeing this on the big screen. Love the scenery. 4 stars
9/11/04 Edler A great western. And I really am not a fan of Costner. 5 stars
8/24/04 Stevie Y. A beautiful movie in every respect. A dead-on story line. A sweet, heartwarming romance. 5 stars
8/15/04 dfdea 4 stars for Western Appreciators, 3 stars for the average filmgoer 4 stars
8/07/04 Mike Great movie. 4 stars
8/01/04 DJ Great movie!!!!!!!!! 4 stars
7/17/04 axe westerns are silly no longer, thanks to this one 5 stars
7/11/04 Ingo Unique tone, great actors, albeit a little too long. 4 stars
3/26/04 rojo Best Western since Unforgiven. 5 stars
3/21/04 bruce miller good western...predictable 4 stars
3/21/04 Linda Ellis Great movie! 5 stars
3/18/04 rachel burke it was a little draen out 3 stars
3/15/04 Lord Jiggy Curse me for a moral failure, I really enjoyed this film. It built to an end. 5 stars
3/13/04 Chief Dan George the Third Fuck this. "The Oulaw Josey Wales = The Greatest Goddamn Western ever made" 2 stars
2/28/04 william pathetically inane....clipping my toes are more photogenic and interesting...bad tv series 1 stars
2/24/04 LMW Really wanted to like it but couldn't. . .Mind numbing tedium. . . 1 stars
2/22/04 CARRIE good movie...the humorous parts helped alot 5 stars
2/17/04 jj an outstanding western with excellent sound effects!!! 5 stars
2/16/04 Jack Duvall's performance is fantastic. The script is somewhat ponderous. 4 stars
1/26/04 twodogs Good acting, Good gunfight scene,predictable ending 4 stars
1/22/04 Abe Giesbrecht Honest, and refreshing 5 stars
1/21/04 Betty White Either u love it, in which you look over its flaws, or it leaves u cold. 4 stars
1/20/04 Walter Lorenz Boring, flat and unengaging from beginning to end. Seen it all and better. 3 stars
11/28/03 john a great western with a honest story - the shootout alone is worth the price of admission 5 stars
11/06/03 Green Beret Packers Costner & Bening break new ground; Duvall his usual solid self. 4 stars
10/08/03 Erik Van Sant At last, Costner proves the only way he doesn't suck is when he does a period piece. 5 stars
9/25/03 malcolm 4-star, despite Costner, i got one word for u, KC: inflection! 4 stars
9/19/03 April Malan Wonderful, exciting, great! I loved it, one of the best of the summer. 5 stars
9/18/03 DICK Can't touch Lonsome Dove, but it as real as a western gets 5 stars
9/17/03 William H. Collins Despite the slow start,the movie is well worth the wait. 4 stars
9/11/03 Buck A damn solid Kevin Costner movie. Needs some trimming, but gorgeous and refreshingly simple 4 stars
9/08/03 leper3 meditative, elegaic and powerful 5 stars
9/04/03 KingNeutron Pretty good overall, gun effects were GOOD but film needed more EDITING espec in beginning 4 stars
9/02/03 geo. c. flora beautiful and outstanding 5 stars
9/01/03 Suzanne Paul Zimmerman is an idiot 5 stars
8/26/03 Benita Hume really enjoyed it 4 stars
8/26/03 jean a beautifully filmed,very well -acted movie with many unforgettable scenes 5 stars
8/25/03 Ahnold Took too long getting to action. But still worth look (matinee price only) 4 stars
8/25/03 Desperado Good acting by Duvall and Costner make this movie a cant miss 5 stars
8/24/03 Michael hall I'd clean the cow shit off my boots with the DVD 1 stars
8/24/03 K R Stilwell Loved it! 5 stars
8/23/03 Joe Beautifully done. It's about time Costner had a hit. 4 stars
8/21/03 Jack Bourbon Costner isn't so bad sometimes 4 stars
8/18/03 J. Brande Costner is back with a vengeance with a beautiful, riveting film. Tremendous Duvall 5 stars
8/18/03 Belinda Adams Robert Duvall is brilliant. OSCAR-worthy 5 stars
8/17/03 Ethan Costner in top form! 5 stars
8/17/03 Reese Witherspoon suckzzzzz Good, but loses it in final half hour (and the movie is too long anyway) 3 stars
8/17/03 John Zelk Duvall is incredible. He deserves a BEST ACTOR nomination OSCAR. 5 stars
8/16/03 FlaFan Terrific movie 5 stars
8/16/03 Dr. Bitterpants IGNORE Paul "shorter is better" Zimmerman's pallid review -- this is a great film! 4 stars
8/15/03 James Mathews Costner is back riding high in the saddle. Easily movie of the summer and year to date! 5 stars
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  15-Aug-2003 (R)
  DVD: 20-Jan-2004



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