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"Open Range"

Directed by Kevin Costner.
Written by Craig Storper.  Based on a novel by Lauran Paine. 
Starring Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner and Annette Bening.
Release Year:  2003 
Review Date:  8/18/03 


Man, I love a good western.  That’s why from the moment I first saw the trailer for the new Kevin Costner western “Open Range”, I knew I had to see it.

After leaving the theater with my friend Max, we both had similar things to say.  The plot, involving two cattle herders named Boss (Robert Duvall) and Charlie (Costner), is just an excuse to have these two guys hangin’ out in the countryside for two hours.  The twosome meet with some trouble in a town run by some sneaky Irish guy (Michael Gambon) and a posse of corrupt evildoers that hate those “freerange” types that herd cattle for a living.  Boss and Charlie have standards and beliefs that make it necessary to take these corrupt individuals down, in the way that people used to do when folks had a disagreement--shootout!  But, we spend most of the film with the characters just takin’ it easy, philosophizing on life, love, and the pursuit of a good Cuban cigar.

Some of you will see this film and think that it is moving along too slowly, or doesn’t have enough action, which is true to a certain degree.  There are lots of shots in Costner’s 140-minute film that probably run too long or could have been cut altogether.  But, then you lose the real essence of the modern western:  the serenity of the heartland frontier.  You would lose some of the touch of scenes where Boss is just sitting on his horse, looking out on the herd, thinking.  Or, Charlie picking at the grass, contemplating.  Duvall, in particular, shows you why many people think he is the greatest actor of all time--he is just so good at the little things in film.  The subtleties, he has truly mastered.  It was great watching him play out a scene where he orders a whiskey at a bar in the corrupt town late in the film.  Just watching his eyes, the way he tapped the bar for another glass, the looks he gave to the other folks in the bar...he chews on the fat of a scene better than anybody working.  Where a Pacino or a Nicholson might play the part like the loudest guy in the room (one can envision Pacino ranting and screaming around the room as he tries to convince you that he’s a cowpoke), Duvall just kind of eases into the room, makes a speech, gives you a little smile, struts off the shot.  It’s really beautiful to watch.

He and Costner make for a good team, an old-school buddy cop duo that has a different twist to the relationship than most of these pairings do.  The acting is mostly superb, with Annette Bening handling a mostly-thankless role well and Gambon, Michael Jeter and “Y Tu Mama Tambien” star Diego Luna making their parts resonate, if only slightly.  And, the end shootout (the only violent sequence in the film) is very well done, with a more realistic tone to it than most films of this type attempt; the reading I have done about weapons from this era suggest that firing and missing was quite frequent with guns that were so inaccurate from long range, and it shows in “Open Range.”

As I mentioned, the film does run too long, and I personally could have done without the romantic subplot featuring the Costner/Bening characters.  This didn’t give “Unforgiven” a run for its money, or “Tombstone” for that matter in terms of its over-the-top caricature of the iconic heroes.  But, “Open Range” is strong stuff...and, since we got to see the trailer for the way-overdue “The Alamo” (Christmas release), this paves the way for another strong western for the two-double-oh-three.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09