Open Range (2003)

June 17, 2008 § Leave a comment

As a director, Kevin Costner has certainly had his ups and downs. On top of the world for the multiple  award-winning Dances With Wolves (1990), by the time The Postman (1997) arrived, it turned out to be a long post-apocalyptic buildup to two armies sitting on opposite sides of a battlefield, but then instead of a battle the two leaders get off their horses and smack each other around.  In slow motion, if I recall correctly.  I remember thinking “Er, what?”  It’s too bad the film was a misfire, the premise of a man in a post-apocalyptic world putting on the jacket of a dead postal worker and coming to represent hope is an intriguing one (the novel is sexist and full of clunky writing, but the film should have easily sidestepped those elements to  be a slam-dunk).

With Open Range, Costner directs another Western, and it’s a film much more comfortable and confident, slowly building the characters and a story of injustice.  In fact, in an age where some films seem to expect you’ll feel sympathy for a character just because they’ve been immediately put through hell — and I can’t help but feel we should know characters better first — Open Range takes its time with everything, only building to one climactic shootout that doesn’t disappoint, though it can be a trifle confusing, and apparently the force of one bullet with a lot of righteousness behind it can pick a man up off his feet, which was news to me.  The score is impressive, and Costner and Robert Duvall are a pleasure to watch in this one.  Costner also makes the brave and very wise choice of giving his character little to say, so that we listen when he does talk, and he shares the stage admirably with Duvall.

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