Cast: Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, Michael Jeter, Michael Gambon
Director: Kevin Costner
Released: August 2003; available on DVD
You don't need to be a huge fan of American movie Westerns to enjoy the story and scenery of Open Range, Kevin Costner's latest epic western, based on a novel The Open Range Men by Lauran Paine. The province of Alberta, Canada doubles for the Great American West and its panoramic views are spectacular. In fact, Windows users can download wallpaper or screen savers of the wide open spaces from the film's official website. But it's the understated climate of respect, in various guises, that makes the story and makes a claim on us.
Be prepared for the kind of graphic carnage that is standard for cinematic violence in these days following Sam Peckinpah's ground-breaking film The Wild Bunch. After all, this is a "Western" — a story of good guys and bad guys and the shoot-out you know must happen to resolve the feud. What you'll see here is in the Peckinpah tradition, but done within the understandable context of this particular story, not for its own sake. And before all that confrontational business, there's a narrative and characters to develop.
In Open Range, we learn there are many layers to the "good" in these good guys. Each has known their own share and forms of violence in pasts they're reluctant to reveal. They don't look for trouble, but they can't walk away from injustice. Especially when they encounter a tyrannical landowner who rules the local town through fear. Not only is the "open range" way of life at stake, so is the freedom of the townspeople, and someone must stand up for what's right.
It's that tone of understated respect — for self, for other, for principles — that forms the core of these characters and the story. The characters are real people: folks who fearlessly show their age as they recognize the value of the experience and perspective that come with the wrinkles.
Open Range contains a big story, a panoramic view, and many small touches that build believable characters. We empathize with these flawed men and women who become real heroes by facing their pasts, standing their ground, taking on those who would rule unfairly, and recognizing that good can appear in many forms.