A review of “Open Range” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: R for language and extreme violence

Run Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

 

 

Long before he was Hollywood’s favorite whipping post, Kevin Costner was an actor (I use the term loosely) with an impressive list of hits on his hands, including “Bull Durham”, “Field of Dreams”, and the Academy Award winning “Dances With Wolves”. 

Memories are short in La-La Land, so now Costner finds himself rising up from the carcass of his career (“Dragonfly”, “3000 Miles to Graceland”) to produce, direct and star in this flaccid ode to the classic Western.

You know there’s trouble up ahead when it takes a solid thirty minutes to establish the “mood” of the frontier. Charley Waite (Costner) is riding the range with his no-nonsense partner Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) and cowhands Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and Button (“Y Tu Mamá También” star Diego Luna).  The quartet are roaming the Old West, free-grazing their cattle across the vast prairies and forging honorable friendships while living off land unencumbered by progress.

The lonesome cowboys find themselves in a pickle when they near Harmonville, a small hamlet whose corrupt Sheriff (James Russo) and tyrannical top-dog (Michael Gambon as Baxter) don’t cotton to free-grazers exploiting their land. 

The smart thing would be to ride on, little doggie.  But Charley and Boss have a score to settle since Baxter and his henchmen, who rule the territory with an iron fist, put one of their faithful in a world of hurt. 

The pledge of a blood-soaked gunfight isn’t the only local attraction.  Charley is inexorably drawn to the warm-hearted spinsterish sister of the town doctor (Annette Bening as Sue Barlow), inexplicably finding his emotions in a fluttery state of turmoil.

Costner is more of an Everyman than an actor, delivering as he does a monotone dialogue and dully neutral expressions.  As a director he’s not much better, flaunting superfluous shots of harvest moons and relying on questionable edits and transitions.

On the bright side, Duvall gives genuine play as the ultimate Marlboro Man – hard-as-nails on the outside with a fluffy marshmallow center. His aura is pure cowpoke – self-effacing and salt-of-the-earth. Bening makes the best of her one-dimensional part, lending good facial character when the script inevitably fails her.  Climactic shootout is startlingly vicious, a slight concession for the film’s lagging pace and tedious build-up.