Directed by Kevin Costner, starring Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, Michael Gambon, Abraham Benrubi and Diego Luna.
In his third directorial outing, previous efforts being the acclaimed 'Dances with Wolves' (1990) and 1997's execrable 'The Postman', Kevin Costner is back home on the range for this old-fashioned western. Starring Costner and Robert Duvall as a couple of cowboys doing what a man's gotta do, 'Open Range' is flawed but still satisfying, an elegiac homage to a way of life - and kind of film - that no longer exists.
Boss Spearman (Duvall) and right-hand man Charley (Costner) have spent 10 years working together as free grazers - cowboys who make a living from moving their herds of cattle across the land instead of raising them in one place. On a cattle drive with their hired hands, the amiable Mose (Benrubi) and Mexican orphan Button (Luna), they stray into the territory of free grazer-hating rancher Denton Baxter (Gambon). Baxter isn't content to let them move on without a fight, sending his thugs to attack their wagons, killing Mose and leaving Button half-dead.
Boss and Charley go looking for justice but the town of Harmonville is owned by Baxter, the sheriff is his man and few are willing to stand up against him. Rather than riding away, and despite the odds stacked against them, the two men are willing to risk their lives for what they believe is right. In the midst of an apocalyptic rainstorm, Boss and Charley hold vigil as time ticks away to the inevitable showdown.
'Open Range' is a slow-burner, building gradually towards the climactic - and brilliantly realised - 20-minute gunfight on the main street of Harmonville. If every scene had been as well done, this film could have been great. As it is, Costner (the director) keeps most of the rest of the film at a pace more akin to a plod than a canter. Fortunately, there is plenty to look at. The scenery is stunning and first-time cinematographer James Muro captures it brilliantly.
But the real strength of 'Open Range' is in Costner's casting of Robert Duvall who provides the moral core of the film. His grizzly, born-to-the-saddle portrayal of Boss is quietly convincing, while Costner (the actor) acquits himself well as the taciturn man with a past. Annette Benning, playing a girl named Sue, is also impressive, despite the awkwardness of the romantic sub-plot that sees her finding last chance love with Costner's Charley. The baddies, however, are little more than cartoon villains and Michael Gambon's one-note blackguard could have done with more development, particularly his use of an appalling - and inexcusable - Irish accent.
Westerns may be a dying genre but the nostalgic and character-driven 'Open Range' still hits the mark. Worth waiting for.