It's taken me years to truly appreciate Kevin Costner's work. It probably began with A Perfect World as he finally branched out and tried a different type of role. Obviously I liked Bull Durham, but not so much for Costner himself as much as just the story. And I have liked Dances with Wolves more and more each time I see it. It is difficult to deny him credit for that film, because it certainly was a monumental task to direct such an epic, and he shows that talent again with Open Range.
It is obvious that Costner has a good feel for the western. And you cannot go wrong with Robert Duvall as your lead actor. It's impossible to say enough about Duvall. He does everything so flawlessly that you cannot help but be drawn into each persona that he portrays. And his movements and speech patterns are so minute yet so perfect, that he alone takes the viewer inside these cowboys and the story itself.
Open Range is the story of free-grazers during the later 19th century. They come across the local rancher (Michael Gambon) that wants them gone from the land around his. Well, one thing leads to another and soon there's a shoot-out in the town. The beginning of the film is very slow paced, and I think it works. It places you alongside these men and their way of life. Costner and Duvall are joined by Abraham Benrubi, in a role I would have liked to see more of, and Diego Luna, from Y Tu Mama Tambien. Both fill their roles nicely though they are not given much to work with.
In the town, Annette Benning plays the eventual love interest for Costner and she is wonderful. Wearing very little make-up she proves not only what a beautiful woman she really is, but what a great actress she is as well. It is a shame that she does not work more than she does. One other character deserves mention. Michael Jeter made this film shortly before his death in 2003. Always a great character actor, he does a brilliant job with this small role. His is the quintessential "old-timer."
In short, I loved this movie. It's not necessarily spectacular, but it just feels right. The camera work on the plains of Canada (where the movie was shot) are picture-perfect. The lighting and color are spot on to capture what no longer really exists in the United States in the 21st century. Many times, the camera will meander on shots of the horses. It could not portray any better the feel that Costner was going for as the animals are truly brilliant in their movements and place in the story.
The town (built from scratch) is spot on. Not too large, yet large enough to show how the west was beginning to thrive, it provides a perfect setting for the action to come later. And the gun fights near the end take the viewer through each step. Costner's character gives a short run down of what is most likely to happen and then we watch it as it unfolds almost exactly as he described.
There are some moments when some might be a bit bored, but I did not have this problem. I was hooked from the first shot and at this point, I must say that Kevin Costner has proved his worth to American Cinema. I used to tell a joke, "What is Kevin Costner's best movie? The Big Chill." Well, he is no longer playing corpses and has instead contributed to three of the best westerns film has seen over the past twenty years. I dare say only Duvall (with his Lonesome Dove) and Eastwood have more on him.
Coming in just over two hours, the film is slightly long and ends on a bit of a flat note, but by this time I didn't care. Having enjoyed everything prior to that to such a degree, the ending is simply an epilogue. Watch this film if you have not seen it. I don't think the actors, the movie or Costner's direction will get noticed by the Academy this year, and that's too bad because I think some of them truly deserve it for this movie. That is all.