24
Nov
08

Open Range

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In recent interviews Kevin Costner talks about his desire to reassert the relevance of the western, so it seems odd that his latest film doesn’t take any chances with a genre that’s mired in formula. Boss (Robert Duvall), Charley (Costner), Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and Button (Diego Luna) are freegrazers, roaming cattlemen who have little affection for polite society. But a storm forces them to set up camp outside the plains town of Harmonville–the state is never identified–run by despotic rancher Baxter (Michael Gambon, looking a bit like James Lipton on a bender). Intent on stealing their herd, Baxter’s thugs kill Mose and severely wound Button. This forces Boss and Charley into the film’s inevitable, symbolic showdown between rugged entrepreneurialism and capitalist greed. Along the way, Charley becomes smitten with the local doctor’s sister, Sue (a surprisingly un-made up Annette Bening), who tries her best to wring some warmth out of stilted duds like: “I always hoped somebody gentle and caring might come along.” Craig Storper’s screenplay of Lauran Paine’s novel The Open Range Men isn’t strong on dialogue, though with the exception of a ham-fisted speech about personal freedom—cue the Michael Kamen score—Duvall gets some of the best lines. But make no mistake: this is “a film by Kevin Costner.” Charley has a dark past and the accompanying internal conflict, hogs most of the action in the climactic gun battle, and gets the girl. Costner obviously isn’t trying to reinvent the western, but he plays things safe to a fault. The film’s only real risk is its running time, taking over two hours to convey a simple narrative and a few clichés: good men are sometimes forced to do bad things, two heroes can win a gunfight against eight, and there’s always a sunset–or at least a lens flare–to ride off into.

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