Kevin Costner directs this handsome, old-fashioned western?in which he also stars alongside Robert Duvall?with genuine affection for the great traditions of a once-glorious movie genre, now largely ignored by Hollywood. The film deals with classic western themes?stubborn men in changing times, unable to adapt, unwilling to recognise their days are numbered, the frontier closing around them, the country being ‘civilised’, the West ‘tamed’, corrupt and vicious landowners running vast tracts of the land like private republics, fiefdoms policed by corrupt lawmen and hired guns.
In Open Range, Costner and Robert Duvall are ageing cowpokes Boss Spearman and Charley Waite, “freegrazers”, men who for years have roamed the prairies with their small herds of cattle and ponies, living off the plentiful land. Unfortunately, the land in question is increasingly owned by malignant ranchers like Michael Gambon’s ruthless Denton Baxter, a man of demonic temperament much given to violence, intimidation and murder.
When Baxter’s feral regulators make the grim mistake of shooting up Boss and Charley’s camp, in the process killing Charley’s dog, Boss and Charley do what they have to do?which in this typical instance means killing everyone who stands against them, whatever the fucking odds. Cue a protracted gunfight that would, I’m sure, bring approving nods from Hill and Peckinpah, past masters at this kind of unilateral bloody mayhem.