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Open Range

Maybe Kevin Costner should stick to westerns — and sports films. Granted, he's earned his share of hard knocks for bloated epics such as Waterworld and The Postman, but his movie-star charisma is nearly undeniable in such efforts as Bull Durham, Dances With Wolves, and Tin Cup. Thankfully, Open Range (2003) is another solid addition to the actor/director/producer's filmography. Costner co-stars with Robert Duvall as Charley Waite and Boss Spearman, two "free graze" ranchers passing through the midwestern territory of Fort Harmon country with two cowhands, burly Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and teenage Button (Diego Luna). It's when Mose is sent into Harmonville for supplies that trouble erupts — jumped by a gang of toughs in the employ of wealthy rancher Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon), he's jailed by Marshal Poole (James Russo). When Boss and Charley come looking for Mose, they're informed by the cattleman and his lawman-for-hire that they have no love for free grazers, and it doesn't take long for the travelers to realize that it's only a matter of time before their herd is scattered and they're left for dead. Boss chooses to take the fight to his aggressors by attacking a group of Baxter's gunslingers, but it only raises the stakes — and soon Boss and Charley wind up in Harmonville, prepared to kill Baxter, Poole, and their men, or die trying.

While Open Range is widely billed as a Kevin Costner vehicle, its chief pleasure actually is Robert Duvall. The actor who got his break playing Irish-American consiglieri Tom Hagen in The Godfather has earned his share of western roles over the years, most memorably as Gus McCrae in the beloved 1989 television miniseries Lonesome Dove. Among the foremost of American actors who emerged in the 1970s and built a substantial film career in the following decades, Duvall is always striking, mostly due to his subtly chameleon-like nature — as a Mafia attorney, country singer, or 19th century cattleman, he's never less than engaging. In Open Range he tackles a mature role with the world-weary authority that few actors could match (although one is tempted to wonder how Clint Eastwood would have interpreted the part). As Charley Waite, Costner is Boss Spearman's ideal partner and foil — the younger man lacks Boss's wisdom and moral code, but he's equally intemperate. As a former frontier assassin who's spent the better part of a decade trying to bury his past, he bonds to Boss primarily by their shared defiance of those who would quarrel with them, although it's not always easy to know if his long-dormant killer's instinct will be a help or a hindrance. Meanwhile, Annette Bening provides good support as a doctor's assistant who quietly takes the free-grazers under her roof. Clocking in at nearly 2:20, Open Range may seem like an epic neo-western, but credit Costner's able direction — content to take his time getting from one point to the next, he doesn't settle for tight plotting, but instead juxtaposes a wealth of character and background detail with sharp moments of tension up until the inevitable street gunfight, which does a marvelous job of capturing in real-time the protracted chaos of close combat with black-powder firearms — this masterful 20-minute sequence alone is enough to make Open Range worth the spin.

*          *          *

Buena Vista's two-disc DVD release features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Costner provides a detailed commentary on Disc One, while Disc Two features the excellent production diary "Beyond Open Range," narrated by Costner, which follows the film from pre-production to premiere (65 min.), the historical featurette "American's Open Range," also narrated by Costner (12 min.), 12 deleted scenes with introductions by Costner, a look at the storyboarding process (6 min.), and a music video. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—JJB



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