Gorgeous cinematography with some ponderously long scenes. . . great acting, but familiar-feeling story. . . sweet love interest with confusing resolution. . . good conflict with too much violence. . . commendable initiative and resourcefulness, but many lawless, independent actions. . . genuine prayers and blaspheming God. . . . OPEN RANGE, Kevin Costner’s new Western, is a mixed bag of production elements and worldviews.
The movie begins with Charley Waite (played by Kevin Costner), Boss (played by Robert Duvall), and their two cattle crew helpers rounding up horses and cattle on a gorgeous expanse of post-Civil War western land. The men are “free grazers,” or cowboys who live off whatever land they can find for their cattle, then move on to new territory. Traditional ranchers typically hate the free grazers for leveling their grasslands and not settling into towns like civilized folk.
One day, Boss sends his big, burly helper, Mose, into the nearest town to gather supplies. When Mose doesn’t come back after two days, Boss, Charley, and young Button (Diego Luna) set off to find their companion. Charley has just chastised Button for cheating at cards, telling him, “A man’s trust is a valuable thing. You don’t want to lose it for a handful of cards.”
When they get to town, they find that Mose has been mercilessly beaten and thrown into jail by the corrupt sheriff and the wealthy, corrupt Baxter (played by Michael Gambon), who controls the town. When the men try to spring Mose, Baxter hisses his disgust for free grazers and threatens them with death if they don’t leave. The friends take Mose to a kindly town doctor and his beautiful assistant, Sue (played by Annette Bening), and the two attend to Mose’s injuries, free of charge. The gruff but kind stable hand, Percy (Michael Jeter), tells them more about the evil control of Baxter and his men and warns the cowboys to stay far away.
When the free grazers return to their pastures, they are followed by a gang of four hooded men, who, shortly thereafter, manage to lure away Boss and Charley, find and kill Mose, and badly maim Button. Now it’s time for revenge! Charley and Boss concoct a plan to avenge the death of their companion, but several roadblocks threaten to bar their way. Charley thinks he might be falling in love with Sue, and his demons of past gun-slinging days and their accompanying shame make Boss fear that Charley won’t be able to rise to the challenge. Meanwhile, a horrible storm and some unclear loyalties add tension to the unfolding drama. The cowboys’ survival and the town’s freedom hinge on whether Charley can get his head into the game.
The two hour and twenty minute OPEN RANGE feels a lot like DANCES WITH WOLVES with its beautiful cinematography and slow pacing. It is certainly great escapism to watch the grand vistas of the old west, and the acting is very commendable, especially the relationship between Charley and Boss whose hard-edged gruffness is mixed with moments of tender, appealing dialogue. Annette Bening looks fabulous for her age and makes a charming and intriguing love interest for Costner’s character. There is a weird, sort of double love story pay-off at the end of the movie, though, which takes away some of the tension that would make the story more compelling.
Kevin Costner plays a good old west cowboy. Though he’s clearly a gunslinger with a past, audiences will love him because he — yes, saves a dog. That’s one of the oldest tricks of screenwriting to build an audience connection, by having the protagonist rescue a dog or kiss a baby. (Or is it the other way around?) The likeable Robert Duvall has such a major role that at times it appears there are two protagonists, which presents other story problems.
OPEN RANGE has a moral worldview. The protagonist(s) clearly value honesty, loyalty, treating women honorably, paying fairly for goods and services, and even praying. There are a couple of rough prayers and a “Best thank God, not me.” Yet, there is also revenge, murder, and even a blasphemous curse to God, where Charley calls God an S.O.B.
Thus, despite the slightly dominant moral worldview and some positive, but implied, Christian elements, it is regrettable that the filmmakers decided to put out an R-rated movie. OPEN RANGE easily could have been toned down to a good PG-13, or even a PG, making it able to reach a wider, more inclusive audience. OPEN RANGE may do well with western fans, but the R-rating with its objectionable elements probably will prevent Kevin Costner from attaining the big comeback on which his supporters are banking. Why can’t Hollywood’s decision makers put out a PG, or even a G-rated, Western for those of us who remember the Golden Years of Movies, when parents could take their families to something like HOW THE WEST WAS WON, THE ALAMO, or RIO BRAVO, and not be ashamed?
Please address your comments to:
Michael Eisner, Chairman/CEO
The Walt Disney Company
(Buena Vista, Caravan, Hollywood, Miramax, & Touchstone Pictures)
Walt Disney Studios
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521
SUMMARY: OPEN RANGE stars Kevin Costner as a former gunslinger forced to take up arms again when he and his cattle crew, led by Robert Duvall, are threatened by a corrupt lawman. The movie’s beautiful scenery, commendable acting, and positive moral elements are marred by some slow-moving scenes, a double payoff on the love story, excessive violence, foul language, and other questionable content.
(BB, C, Pa, Ab, ACap, LLL, VVV, AA, D, M) Slightly dominant moral worldview upholds some biblical and moral principles such as honesty, integrity, truth, Western justice, and trust with genuine prayers and positive elements regarding Christian church, but spoiled by rampant violence, revenge themes, one scene where man angry at God calls God a name and villainous business owner is contrasted with independent, free-roaming, independent, little guys; 21 obscenities and eight profanities with one sacrilegious obscenity shouted to God; very strong Western violence includes numerous shootings, killings, gun fights and fist fights in saloons; numerous portrayals of alcohol; some smoking; and, miscellaneous immorality such as cheating, lying, stealing, and revenge.