Costner's career finds redemption in a superior western
DIRECTED BY Kevin Costner
STARRING Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening
Opens March 19, Cert 12A, 145 mins
Seven years after The Postman conclusively destroyed his golden-boy status in Hollywood, Kevin Costner has turned his back on post-apocalyptic blockbusters and returned to his prairie roots.
Open Range stars Duvall and Costner as Boss Spearman and Charley Waite, two “free grazers” in the 1880s, dedicated to raising their cattle on the American Midwest’s freely available grasslands. When bad weather forces them to make camp outside a frontier town, Boss and Charley find themselves on the wrong side of murderous cattle boss Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon) and his corrupt lackey Sheriff Poole (James Russo). As the conflict escalates, ex-Civil War assassin Charley is forced to embrace the lethal past he’s been running away from, setting the stage for a brutal showdown between our grizzled heroes and Baxter’s ruthless private army.
This is a deeply satisfying cowboy flick that recalls Anthony Mann classics like The Naked Spur and The Far Country, with a back-on-form Costner revelling in James Stewart’s signature role as an awkward, flawed western hero searching for redemption. Craig Storper’s screenplay (adapted from the novel by Lauran Paine) is a masterpiece of careful pacing, and Costner entices beautifully understated performances from his fellow leads. Duvall is outstanding as Boss, a world-weary man of principle who has no taste for the fatal conflict with Baxter but embraces it without hesitation because he knows it’s the right thing to do. Bening is equally convincing as Sue Barlow, Charley’s mature love interest, and Costner’s handling of their awkward, grown-up romance is quite beautiful.
All of these elements add up to a great period frontier drama, but what makes this an outstanding western are the opening cattle-droving scenes?the best depiction of jobbing cowboy life since Dick Richards’ underrated 1972 masterpiece The Culpepper Cattle Company?and the glorious climactic gun battle, which has to be seen/heard to be believed. It’s a masterpiece of slow, deliberate violent conflict that recalls Eastwood at his directorial best, and qualifies Open Range as not just a great movie but one of the great contemporary westerns.