Open Range Movie Review
The Western returns. Kevin Costner returns. Open Range is also one of the better films this year.
Costner and Robert Duvall star as free grazers who stumble into an area of country that does not look too kindly on their profession. After their friend is murdered, they set out to enact revenge on the corrupt sheriff and "mayor". What ensues is a classic western tale that is entertaining from beginning to end, and finishes with an explosive action-packed climax.
Costner, who for some time has been struggling to prove that he still has something left in his career, made the smart move of not only returning to his "roots" (a.k.a. his award-winning piece of direction, "Dances with Wolves"), but of allowing himself to share a sizeable chunk of screen with established actors Duvall and Annette Bening (who plays Costner's love interest). The strategy pays off; Open Range is an excellent western, but not because of Costner.
Duvall rules the screen, though Costner should still be given a fair amount of credit since it really is the two characters' chemistry that makes this movie so enjoyable. Duvall is full of witty sayings and wisdoms, but the way that he and Costner play off each other is classic. Open Range is dramatic and believable, but Costner is aware that any western that takes itself too seriously is liable for disaster. Thus, much of the dialogue has intentional humor injected into it, but it is subtle and flows well with the somber tone of the movie.
Bening also turns in a good performance as the love interest. She, in this modern age, is of course given some flare and "balls", and handles herself well, even in her limited screen time. Costner made an excellent choice in casting her, not only because of her two Best Actress nominations but because she is much more believable than some 20-something blonde bimbo that might otherwise have been cast. Bening is amazingly pretty here, and works just as well, if not better, than someone half her age.
Despite the good performances of Costner and Bening, Open Range only stumbles in the scenes involving these two. It is not that their chemistry is bad or that their relationship is unrealistic, but the pace slows considerably when they exchange words. Costner was obviously aiming for an old fashioned kind of romance, but for most male audiences it turns out to be just a bore. The film really suffers in the last two or three minutes of the film, as the final stages of the relationship are worked out; it is like the Energizer bunny, and there is no need to explain that any further.
Nonetheless, the flaws are miniscule. Open Range is consistently entertaining and at times quite funny, but what really pushed the film over the edge is the stupendous action scene at the end. Open Range is inherently a drama, but the entire movie leads up to the single gunfight at the end, and the wait is well worth it. The ending is violent and powerful, and will have you at the edge of your seat.
Though Open Range does not amount to Oscar-worthy material, it is still by far one of the best movies of 2003 so far, and should not be overlooked for the mere fact that it is a western, or that it stars Kevin Costner. This is truly Costner's best work in ages, and also features good performances from the rest of the cast as well as a good script and an awesome climax.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.