'Open Range' ***** 031705
DVD Review (2003)


The Work = *****
Ok, so I started writing this review once already and it didn't work. First in short, I love this movie, it's a must see, go out and try watching it already. Now the review. I have a soft spot for crime dramas and westerns, no idea why. Maybe it's the whole men with guns thing, or maybe it's simply all the action or maybe it's seeing manly men do manly things or some such silliness. Maybe still it's ‘cause I'm a guy who uses a wheelchair to get around (pretty slowly at that,) so I'm not going to be the detective chasing the criminal down the alley or the hardened cowboy managing the herd and fighting off rustlers. ‘Oooooor (and this is the most likely reason,) maybe I'm just a dork.

What ever the case I love 'em and 'Open range' is a western and it is also one of the best films put on screen. I remember the first time I saw 'Open Range'. I had been working on a TV pilot that was taking way too long to finish and it was about two hours from where I was living at the time. One day on my commute home I saw there was a late show of 'Open Range'. I remember I couldn't get any of my friends to go see it and I had been exasperated with my work so I thought I'd catch the late show. The people at the theater probably wanted to kill me because it was the last show in the evening and I was the only one that showed up to see it.

There I sat, alone in this theater, and I watched my own private screening of 'Open Range', thinking I would get an OK western. It surpassed my expectations and made me appreciate Kevin Costner, who directed and starred in the film *Alright you, quit your laughing, this really is a good movie! Seriously, though, this could have been some ego inflating piece of garbage that made no sense at all. (Thankfully Costner got that out of his system with 'The Postman'.... Just kidding.)

Costner stars along with Robert Duvall and Annette Bening who are wonderful. Actually the whole cast does an excellent job. The cinematography is amazing and I could not get over how many shots looked like they were paintings. The film’s look brings the American West to life (despite being shot in Canada) through the before mentioned cinematography, the production, and the costume design. The score and the sound work especially are impressive. For once in a movie, gunshots sound like they should: loud, frightening, and scary up close, like pops from afar.

The plot revolves around Costner and crew who are so called "free grazer" cattle hands. They roam the increasingly shrinking west selling cattle. They come to a town and without going into specifics are met with hostility. What happens and why I will leave out but the way violence is portrayed in this film brings to the forefront the complexity of living in the shrinking west. There was little law and often times if there was law it was corrupt. Hired gunmen were cheap and easy to get and as a result someone with money could manipulate the whole landscape.

The way Costner and his hostellers are increasingly boxed into a situation that could have tragic consequences no matter how it plays out is clever. I loved the little touches of character in the film, such as when Charlie (Costner) discovers that the men he is up against are not so far removed from himself. Indeed, the movie has the observation that it is probably likely that someone who is a free grazer is likely to be either someone young looking for a future or someone older trying to escape their past. Charlie and Boss (Duval) both have things they want to escape.

(Spoiler warning, START OF SPOILERS:) Just a few comments on moments in the film. The ending seemed just a tad too long to me. There is the incredible shoot out at the end and some final moments and then.... the film keeps going. While it is not a huge problem, it just stuck out. That was my only real issue with the film.

Some moments that I love. When, after the shootout, the villagers chase down one of the fleeing hired guns, gruesomely killing him. It reminded me of the Scene at the end of Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai' when the villagers kill an attacking Samurai. Both scenes are a fairly chilling portrait of vigilantly retribution. (Although in 'Open Range' it is a bit more extreme since the danger had since passed at the time of the killing.)

I was really impressed with the gripping shootout at the end and all of its various stages. It has so many great little parts and shots: Boss stopping Charlie from murdering the dying young man, Percy (Michael Jeter) reading Charlie's makeshift will (Michael Jeter, sadly, would pass away not long after the film was released,) Charlie zeroing in on the man who was the best killer and shooting him with only an acknowledgment, and of course, Charlie going after the hired gun that shot Boss at the outset of the gunplay and then going after the hired gun that grabbed Sue (Annette Bening.)

Final moment: When Charlie talks about his dark past. His character is revealed to be more or less dealing with the then undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When he talks about killing and combat, the camera slowly dollys back from a tight close up on Costner’s face, as it does so a riverbed in the distance behind his profile slowly shifts into focus. The blurred ripples of the water looks like echoes of soldiers marching into battle. END OF SPOILERS.

'Open Range' is a great Western and a great movie. It is a shame that the film did not get more notice when it came out in theaters. At least it made back its money and showed that Westerns can still be financially successful. I recommend it!

DVD = *****

The Look
'Open Range' was shot in beautiful 2.35:1 widescreen. It gets a great transfer. The painterly looking cinematography comes through crisp and clear. I did not see any major digital effects. Great looking DVD.

The Sound
A great mix. (Dolby Digital 5.1, also available in French, but I only listened to the English one.) When Charlie unloads a shotgun in a bar, you really hear it. Dialogue and music came through great.

The Bonus
Thankfully Paramount has done right by 'Open Range'. We get a 2 disc set and features like: deleted footage with introductions by Costner, a great documentary that is narrated by Costner, a second shorter documentary on the American West, a featurette on the storyboarding, music video, and a commentary by the man as well. All the features are done right. The actor/ director has plenty to say on the commentary. The documentary on the film looks low budget with a lot of "fly on the wall" type footage but with Costner narrating it comes off quite well. In fact since it doesn't have all the flash and polish of an expensive documentary, it seems straight to the point and detail packed. I’d take it over those press junket laden promotional pieces of garbage any day.

All Together = *****
So, it is clear I like this movie and I realize, looking at this review, I wrote a Kevin Costner love fest. The thing is though, he deserves it for this one. I showed a friend this film and he is, to say the least, not Costner's biggest fan. After watching this film he was forced to admit he actually liked a Kevin Costner movie. I say give it a try, it's a must see. It is arguably one of the best westerns around and a very underrated film.


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