Taking place in the waning days of the Old American West, Open Range tells the tale of a quartet of men – Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall), his longtime employee and friend Charley Waite (Kevin Costner) and two hired hands: Mose Harrison (Abraham Benrubi) and a young Mexican who goes by the name of “Button” (Diego Luna).
The group freegraze their cattle across the vast prairies of the West, sharing a friendship forged by a steadfast code of honour and living a life unencumbered by civilization. When their wayward herd forces them near the small town of Harmonville, the cowboys encounter a and corrupt sheriff by the name of Poole (James Russo) and Irish kingpin rancher Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon), who governs the territory through tyranny and violence.
When an encounter with Baxter’s men results in the death of one of their own, Boss and Charley find themselves drawn towards an inevitable showdown. Amidst this turmoil, Charlie meets Sue Barlow (Annette Bening), a woman he winds up falling for. As the men prepare for the showdown, they are also forced to confront and conquer their own internal demons.
The last time Kevin Costner was calling the shots behind the camera, we got The Postman. Enough said. Before that, it was Dances With Wolves, a film that has held up quite well over the past thirteen years. Where does Open Range fall in contrast to Kevin’s previous two directorial efforts? Well, it’s not quite Dances With Wolves, but it sure as hell is no Postman.
Costner employs a relaxed style to his directing this time out, which is both a blessing and a curse. It works in favor because we get to know the characters and the relationships between them are allowed to develop. It works against it because within Craig Storper’s screenplay lies a story that is just enough for a 105-minute film that is stretched out to 135 minutes, which tends to dilute the material to an extent. That aside, Costner’s directorial work is commendable, especially during the film’s realistic and intense showdown in the film’s third act.
Costner comes off well in front of the camera as well thanks in no small part to the great chemistry he shares with his co-stars. Duvall’s dignified performance is easily one of the best in a mainstream Hollywood film this year and is this movie’s highlight, while Bening is also quite good in her supporting role as Sue.
Costner, who wisely lets his co-stars take center stage when he shares the screen with them, plays Charlie as a man whose actions speak louder than words, even if he doesn’t always want them to. The only time the chemistry falters is when Charlie and Sue begin to get romantically serious about each other. Think of the golden romantic wordplay from Pearl Harbor or the last Star Wars film and you get the idea.
Open Range is a film made specifically with adult audiences in mind. That alone is reason enough to give it respect. That the film is a solid piece of entertainment that doesn’t belittle its audience or their intelligence, especially during a summer movie season where doing such things seems to be the norm – this may be a cause for celebration.