Kevin Costner's OPEN RANGE
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
This is a magnificent movie. It looks great, the acting is terrific, and it presents us with a classic confrontation between good and evil that culminates in a spectacular small-town all-guns-blazing gunfight.
Director and star Kevin Costner and stars Robert Duvall and Annette Benning really deliver the goods. But it may not be for everyone.
First, it’s a Western. I love a good Western, but they’re not to everyone’s taste. Take it or leave it.
Second, it moves to its own rhythm. Some might call it slow. I understand what Costner is doing. He shows us men on horseback crossing a river, first one way then later in the movie the other way. He discusses this in the commentary and explains his interest in showing the rhythms and timing of the Old West. I respect that, and you have to realize that things did move more slowly back then. Since I like being transported back in time and can’t afford a time machine, a movie like this is the next best thing.
Third, Costner is a tyrant about details. He shows camp preparations, digging wheels out of mud, and what happens when a downpour causes a flood in a city street. His smoke-filled saloon is a smoke filled saloon. His costumes reek of authenticity (as probably do the unwashed cowpokes underneath them). Was all the detail necessary? Maybe not. But it sure does add to the reality. Again, it’s that time travel thing.
This is yet another tour-de-force performance by Robert Duvall. He is absolutely splendid as the wise, gruff old cowpoke. He gives the role dignity and reality where a lesser actor would have given us schmaltz. My hat’s off to him.
The gunfight at the end absolutely kicks ass. It’s right up there with the best of them and somehow manages to combine every element of the genre in a new and exciting way — out-in-the-open confrontation, house to house combat, interference by unarmed civilians, surreptitious support by a few uncowardly townspeople — it’s all here.
It has a convincing love story. Some have complained this seems added on and unnecessary, but I don’t agree. Maybe what I find fascinating is that Costner and Benning are both no longer young, yet they bring an honesty and freshness to this tentative relationship that takes that fact into account and builds on it. Yes, children, us old folks do fall in love.
The second DVD contains a series of highly personal and informative documentaries and commentaries, including a brief and well-illustrated documentary that tells about the “Open Range” period of the West and the issues surrounding industrial and economic expansion that caused increasing demand for cattle; the resulting pressure for grazing provides the backdrop for this movie.
Costner’s narration is remarkably direct and forthcoming about the issues and pressures of making a movie like this on a “small” budget of $25 million. He’s on camera and narrating constantly, but he always makes sure that all key participants get their due. I especially enjoyed discussions of how the town and the flood were created and how rehearsal proceeded even as hammers and saws were working.
It’s interesting to compare and contrast the Costner of Open Range with the Costner of the wildly out of control Waterworld (which I enjoyed immensely and just purchased on DVD). On this DVD Costner is much more mature and in control of his on-camera persona than I imagine was the case with the time spent on Waterworld. Maybe he’s just older and wiser in these post-Waterworld, post Dances With Wolves days. Maybe it’s his current romantic relationship.
Or maybe, as he states in one of the commentaries, he just likes making movies.
Review copyright (c) 2004 by Dennis D. McDonald