*** Official OPEN RANGE Review Thread

Discussion in 'Movies' started by JustinCleveland, Aug 11, 2003.

  1. JustinCleveland

    JustinCleveland Cinematographer

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    This is the review I will have posted up at DVD Town and Rotten Tomatoes coming up shortly. Enjoy!

    Before I get into my review, I have to give a shout out to my new best friends, Harold Mester and Jason Fischer from WISN 1130 in Milwaukee. Without them, I wouldn’t have gotten into the show. I won’t elaborate on why, but suffice it to say, “Thank you.”

    Allow me to set the scene for you. A grand auditorium, decorated to the hilt in grand, 20’s style, filled with friends of the Kohler company who paid well-over one hundred dollars per ticket. Introducing the film was Herb Kohler, the chairman and CEO of the Kohler company, who has a small (but excellent) cameo in the movie and his good friend, actor/director Kevin Costner. There is nothing that will change an audience’s perception of a film than the creator sitting in their midst. I sat about twenty rows back, a row behind Costner and Kohler (which seriously limited my smart-aleck comments.)

    When the lights went down and the curtains pulled open, the first thing I was reminded of what Costner’s incredible eye for scenic vistas. Say what you will about “The Postman,” but one of the redeeming factors of that mess was the visual style that was developed. Shot in the great white north, Costner’s small city is an excellent recreation of what I see as an outpost city in the Old West, after the conclusion of the Civil War but before the advent of the Modern age, in that tweener time when the country didn’t know what it was, or what it was becoming. In the interim, there was a clash between those who viewed the West as a new beginning for the nation, where there were no rules or boundaries, where a man was free to go where he pleased, and those who believed much the same, save that they should be in control if they pleased. This highly polarized political issue isn’t the first, nor the last that is presented, for good or not, in “Open Range.”

    The film begins as the Open Rangers, Costner’s Waite, Robert Duval as Boss, “Y Tu Mama Tambien”’s Diego Luna as Button, and “ER”’s Abraham Benrubi as Mose, hunker down to shelter themselves from an approaching storm… wrangling their cattle to safety, pitching a tent, each member of the small crew chipping in to assist the whole group. The film’s main theme, that being the powerful bond of friendship is established early as the gang passes the storm by playing cards, and Button looks on to Mose’s cards, and rather than play unfairly and violate the trust of a friend, Waite folds and walks away. Even though Button apologizes to Waite for violating his trust, the elder cattleman holds his grudge until it can be properly expressed, showing the power and respect he puts into friendship and trust. Once the storm subsides and the group breaks camp, they realize they are dangerously low on some needed provisions, so Mose is sent into an admittedly-hostile town to pick up what is needed, while the rest of the group forges ahead. After a day passes with no Mose, Boss and Waite venture into the town to discover what befell the behemoth. What they find is a town ruled by a cattle rancher who is none-to-friendly to those who would go through his land, the sheriff who is his lackey, and a town caught in the middle, under the rule of this dictator who controls the economy and thus their lives. The conflict between the free-rangers and excellent Michael Gambon as Baxter is the heart of the film, and serves as the catalyst to propel the movie forward to its inevitably exciting conclusion.

    Though I have already mentioned the wonderful scenery and cinematography, and the place of awe and belief they brought me to in the film, I have to comment on the real glue of the picture, the supporting cast. The late Michael Jeter, who Costner called one of the greatest actors of his generation, is a sympathetic stable owner who gives his normal, quirky performance but is both so likeable and believable that you can’t help but smile to see him on the screen. The various citizens of the small town Waite and Boss dedicate themselves to liberate seem, much like their surroundings, to have been lifted from the late 19th century. The operator of the Saloon, the proprietor of the General Store, and even Herb “Café Man” Kohler are wonderful in their roles, because they don’t seem to be acting at any point, rather they are playing it straight as though they were living their situation. And, to be honest, Herb Kohler steals the show in the culminating battle of the film. Watch for him, it’ll be impossible to miss him.

    For as much praise as I can lump on to the supporting cast, I cannot give that praise onto the leads, Costner and Duval. I think that both, given better material, could have made more out of the characters, instead worked with the simple story and didn’t craft the characters into rounded individuals. Duval plays his Boss the same way he has played a dozen other roles, and from his extensive verbage, I never got a true sense of the character. Same goes for Costner’s Waite, who speaks about the pain and tragedy he has suffered through, as he exposes it to Button for the first time, never lets any anguish for his loss, any human dignity, seep through. The way the actors carried themselves, I never saw Boss and Waite on the screen, I only saw Robert and Kevin.

    A lot of that lack of character development I attribute directly to the material they had to work with. Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood hit things right on the head four decades ago when the released the now-classic Spaghetti Westerns, that men on the range don’t really have a lot to say. They aren’t the best educated, per se, nor are they the most eloquent people on the earth. Now there are exceptions, as I’m sure there were in the Old West. Not only were Boss and Waite well-spoken, they both espoused a tremendous amount of philosophy and did so in such a verbose way that it conflicted with the strong-but-silent view presented early in the film. When the two leads sit back to reminisce about the past, to reflect on the fact that they have been riding together a decade, it is with such stilted and forced dialogue that I was ripped out of the film and reminded that I was watching a screen. This is counter-pointed later in the film when Waite and Boss both share big secrets about their past, implying that everything before the start of their partnership was kept as tight as a dirty secret. But considering how much philosophizing this pair does based on their past, I found it disgusting that the author would have me believe that these two never talked about their pasts. It is the weakness of those characters that struck me the hardest in “Open Range.”

    The ludicrous nature of the script is enhanced by the amount of posturing diatribes each of the main characters receives, most notably Costner. For example, after Mose is retrieved from the Sheriff, Waite goes off on the differences between the open and cloistered rangers, giving a sermon on why one way of life is better than another. The entire time he was speaking, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Waite, you’re talking to Boss… the guy you have been riding with for ten years, I think he agrees.” It is these overindulgent political postures that ripped the film further from reality and into absurdity.

    The only major subplot, a love-at-first-sight romance between Annette Bening and Kevin Costner feels completely tacked on, and it goes through a couple, simple steps: He sees her, falls in love, finds out she’s single, tells her he is going to kill a lot of people, and then asks her to marry him. I’ll grant you it worked for Costner’s simple character, who never had the chance to experience life or love before, but it seems completely out of place in a movie that is dedicated to freedom vs. oppression.

    The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, will certainly be lauded by some as a return to the westerns of old, the final showdown between a dozen or more of Baxter’s men and the two bastions of “justice,” who advocate killing many to ensure the rights of a few, Boss and Waite. Standing toe-to-toe, Boss and Waite are able to follow killshot with killshot, while their enemies bullets find no target, and despite the terrible odds, the champions of “justice” prevail, killing many men because of a conflict of ideology, while only ending up with minor wounds themselves. In the end, the city is glad to be rid of a corrupt Sheriff and the Gestapo-like servants of Baxter, Costner gets the girl and they ride off into the sunset. If I were able to turn my brain off, stop thinking of basic odds, and historical accuracy, I might have found myself able to believe that two, over-the-hill men could beat a dozen in their prime.

    Perhaps most distracting to me, in retrospect, was the blatant justificatory allegory the film serves up regarding United States foreign policy? Don’t believe me? This following section is a point-by-point comparison, so if you want to discover it for yourself, you may want to skip to the second-to-last paragraph of this review. And, if I see this showing up in any film student term papers, I damn well want a footnote.

    First, in the beginning of the film, Mose is sent off to a hostile, foreign town where he is attacked. We can compare this simply to pre-9/11 policies where the United States was an invasive presence in foreign lands, but not in an active degree in most cases, but there were attacks at Embassies, the USS Cole, etc where the US went in to investigate further and threaten the attackers, just as Boss and Waite did.

    Next, the scene where Mose is killed and Button gravely injured while Waite and Boss are off at a preemptive strike can be clearly drawn to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, with that action prompting the true Americans, Waite and Boss, to foist their “justice” on Baxter and his crew and imposing their views of what is right and wrong regarding land management policy onto a people that may or may not want it. It was at this point that the allegory and metaphor kicked into high gear for me while I was sitting in the theater, where to punctuate the decivilzed nature of Baxter’s men, Waite’s cute white dog is mutilated. Baxter stands as an Osama or Saddam, a foreign man who was controlling a land of people who resented him and his rule, thus further justifying Waite and Boss’s actions.

    The gun battle, at the end of the film, is further representative of the war in Iraq. Before hand, the apathetic majority tried to get out of the way, while the dedicated store owners stayed to protect their investments. The combatants were all that was left to litter the street with bullets, blood, and bodies. The United States, in this portrayal, is entirely justified in launching a well-planned and announced plan to remove the dictator (Waite, Boss, and Baxter, respectively) and kill anyone who gets in their way. Before the fight starts, Costner says the line heard in the trailers, “There are a lot of people going to die today, and I’m going to kill them.” That is followed by an unapologetic shot after the killing is done of bodies being dragged out of the streets, seeing the death as a victory, instead of the unneeded loss of life that it truly was, since diplomacy was discarded long before it was given the chance. After the movie, as I sat back and listened to the comments of the audience as they filed out of the theater, they confirmed much of what I had been thinking. My jaw nearly hit the floor as one said, “I liked it. Only the bad guys died.” I thought to myself, how can they be bad, all they were doing was following orders and they had a different opinion of the outsiders.

    The problem is, I’m not quite sure where Costner is planted in the whole debate. I honestly wish I could have pinned him down after the movie (he was quickly ushered toward the exit, negating the chance for me to probe the creator further about his work) and asked where he stood on this issue. Costner made some rather surprising comments in a press conference before the film’s showing, responding to an innocuous comment by a TV reporter looking for a sound bite on Ahnold’s candidacy for governor. He ended up going off on the press for our perception of entertainers as unpolitical figureheads, whereas he wanted to make sure that we understood that actors are very political. It was this statement that solitified, in my mind, his true intentions to create an allegory of US foreign policy. But in the end, no matter where he stands, it was clear to me this was a metaphoric look at the necessity of warfare and the current state of US foreign policy. Looking back, I find it clear and hope to see the movie again when it opens theatrically to see if, as I watch the events unfold, I feel the same way.


    In the end, I think the movie tries too hard to be both a moral barometer of “justice,” right and wrong, and legal ethics and an amoral Western that revels in death. As I mentioned before, I am a fan of Sergio Leone’s amoral (and some would argue immoral) Westerns, so I do not draw a preachy line. Instead, what I see is a work of fiction that is itself an adaptation of the written word where those diatribes and discourses between Boss and Waite work, but they do not translate well to a visual medium. What we are left with is a highly-moral child who tries to play with the cool kids and act like breaking a window is no big thing, while it tears him up because he knows its wrong, and he tries to tell his friends that. It is that lack of definition that really hurts the film “Open Range.”

    If you are a diehard fan of the Western genre and want to see this movie on the big screen, there is little I can say to dissuade you, and I hope you enjoy it. For those sitting on the fence, I would recommend a viewing to see the wonderful, epic vistas Costner scouted out and shot, and the sweeping score, not to mention the political subtext of the entire film, to see if you agree with me or not. Although I find Costner’s acting suspect and have never enjoyed him from a realistic perspective, I do honestly believe he has an eye scenery and knows how to get a shot to convey a lot of emotion and drama. His elementary camera moves can get a little distracting, but not so much that it will hurt a good-or-bad film, which is all he seems to make, with little in between. I don’t know many people who are ambivalent about his movies, that is for sure. The Western fan will find plenty to like in Costner’s “Open Range,” and I’m sure the casual moviegoer will feel they get their money’s worth. My only word of caution, to those who see the film, is to have your political filter on high, and watch what happens when Hollywood tries to go political in a film. I felt it was too forced and overt in “Casablanca” and I don’t like it here, either. But even without that content, the weak main characters and forced dialogue would make this film a rental or DVD purchase at very best.

    See you later, neighbor!
     
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    This thread is now the Official Review Thread for "Open Range". Please post all HTF member reviews in this thread.

    Any other comments, links to other reviews, or discussion items will be deleted from this thread without warning!

    If you need to discuss those type of issues then I have designated an Official Discussion Thread.



    Crawdaddy
     
  3. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    OK, let's try this again.

    This is the REVIEW thread. It's for REVIEWS. Nothing else.

    For discussion of the reviews posted here, go to the DISCUSSION thread (link above in Robert Crawford's post).

    Contributions to this thread other than REVIEWS will be (and have been) deleted. And if you think a review needs a spoiler warning, try emailing the reviewer, or reporting the post to a moderator.

    M.
     
  4. Scott Weinberg

    Scott Weinberg Lead Actor

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    Open Range [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] out of 5

    Following Kevin Costner's most recent directorial effort (1997's The Postman), moviegoers could surely be forgiven their lack of anticipation for the actor/director's newest project. This is, after all, a guy behind (and in front of) recent flicks like Dragonfly, 3,000 Miles to Graceland and Message in a Bottle. But one thing Costner has proven over the years is a remarkable sense of resiliency.

    In between several late-90's speed bumps, he impressed many with his participation in movies like Tin Cup and 13 Days. Add to that a body of work that includes titles like Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and Silverado. Put another way: any actor/director who can run the gamut from Waterworld to Dance with Wolves is quite simply not an easy guy to bet on (or against).

    So when you spend a few minutes perusing the Weekend section and Costner's name catches your eye, it's best to think of that Kevin Costner that you DO like and not that other one who pops up every so often. Because if you do, you'll end up seeing Open Range - and it's a pretty damn good movie. Kevin's now done three baseball movies and four westerns; in these genres he's batting a thousand. (Yes I liked Wyatt Earp; there's a darn good 2-hour movie nestled within its 190 minutes.) Love the guy or loathe him, Costner (when working on a movie "hands-on") has clearly evolved over the years, and if Open Range isn't the best film he's directed yet...it comes pretty darn close. (Yeah go on and hate me; Dances with Wolves is overrated in my book.)

    What Costner's learned in the case of Open Range is this: take a step back, assume a supporting stance, let your screenplay tell your story, and find one phenomenal actor to fill the screen. And while the story offered in Open Range may not be the newest Western conceit under the sun, Costner approaches the project with an earnest nobility that's quite impressive - mainly because "earnest nobility" can often become "unintentional hilarity" when coaxed too adamantly, but also because the guy presents a warm, fluid and frankly beautiful film.

    Open Range is basically a 2-cowboy character study, sort of a milder take on Clint Eastwood's brilliant Unforgiven, that moves at an intentionally (and entertainingly) deliberate pace while supplanting kinetic action sequences for moments of thoughtful discussion between endearing characters. Though Costner may seem to be the Big Star on Display here, Open Range clearly belongs to longtime Acting God Robert Duvall. That Costner the director opted to give Duvall top billing (and nearly all of the film's best lines) is a reliable indicator. Not that the opinions of a faceless mass (i.e. "The Academy") amount to all that much, but I suspect Duvall will be earning a seventh Oscar nomination for his work here. And damn if the old rascal wouldn't deserve it.

    Boss (Duvall) and Charley (Costner) are longtime partners in the 'freegrazing' business, and as the 1800s draw to a close these two cowboys find their profession in a precarious state. Out on the open plain with two young apprentices, a few horses and a whole lot of cows, Boss and Charley seem quite content with their lot in life. As is nearly always the case in a Western (even the ones aiming for something more than "a lotta shootouts"), there's a nearby town full of nefarious lawmen and evil cattle barons. That our two heroes cross paths with these villainous types is certainly no surprise; the thoughtful restraint with which Costner tells his tale surely is.

    Yes, there IS a healthy dose of gunslinging action to be found in Open Range. Actually, the big shootout at film's end is one of the finest sequences I've seen in a long time...but if non-stop carnage and pithy one-liners are what you're looking for I suggest you look elsewhere. Open Range is about not much more than the end of the Old West as seen through the eyes of two particularly introspective and decent cowpokes. And I mean that as high praise.

    Certainly there are a few spots in which Costner pushes the "aw shucks" factor a bit too far; an ongoing obsession with the importance of canine friendship skirts dangerously close to Sappy-Land, and a late-in-the-game Romance Angle seems squeezed a bit too ardently. But by the time those few minor speed bumps show up, Open Range has already earned more than enough respect. 85% honest sincerity is always worth 15% of near-schmaltz.

    So I say Good Job to Kevin Costner. As one who's loudly berated the guy in the past for churning out some painfully bad movies, I'm thrilled to see the guy prove my expectations wrong this time out. Open Range is a welcome return to form for a filmmaker who's weathered more than his fair share of big-time blunders. If a film like The Postman represents a filmmaker at his most self-adoring and insular, then Open Range displays a true evolution. By letting his movie (and his star) take center stage and assuming the moody sidekick role for himself, perhaps Costner was able to approach this project from a previously unfamiliar perspective; that of a filmmaker and not a movie star.

    Old complainers like myself will find themselves commenting appreciatively that Open Range is a throwback to the old-time Westerns that don't come around too often anymore. Anyone with a soft spot for mild-mannered and stately Horse Operas should surely find much to appreciate in this one.
     
  5. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    I'm a big fan of the western genre and have seen just about every decent film made in that genre. That being said, I am extremely impressed by "Open Range" and I salute Kevin Costner for making such a fine film. Though, the film starts off a little slow, the pace picks up and by the end of the film you find yourself really caring for the two leads with just right amount of complexity in both characters.

    I've seen my share of gunfights in films over the years and I consider the one in this movie one of the finest ever filmed. I recommend "Open Range" to western fans and to people that are just interested in seeing a good film.





    Crawdaddy
     
  6. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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    Open Range, in some respects, is what High Noon should have been. Those of you who remember my reservations with that other film will know what I am talking about. [​IMG]

    Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall who had separately given us the TV mini-series Lonesome Dove, Dances With Wolves, and Silverado, among others, team up for another Western. These two gentlemen certainly know what a Western looks and feels like.

    The shots and framing that Costner uses takes advantage of the scenery’s sweeping vistas and landscapes. The screenplay by Craig Storper is very involving and is sprinkled by touches of lightheartedness at just the right moments. In addition, the late Michael Jeter gives another memorable performance in a supporting role.

    Open Range, however, is not without its faults. It starts out a little slow that doesn’t benefit its storyline and at the expense of another plot. It comes up a little short in establishing the relationship between Costner’s character (Charley) and that of Annette Bening (Sue). A better balance would have been achieved by trimming the excesses of the former and, in return, giving those critical minutes to develop and nurture its romantic storyline. As it is, it feels a little rushed – as when Sue was professing her love for Charley out loud, these kind of dramatic moments should be believable and easy to take, rather than awkward, and at times, forced. Otherwise, this film would have been a great one.

    Still, what Costner has achieved here is quite remarkable. And I am happy to say, that at least for me, the wrong done in High Noon has now been fully rectified. [​IMG]

    Open Range rates [​IMG] (out of four).

    ~Edwin

    Edited for a spelling error.
     
  7. Chris Atkins

    Chris Atkins Producer

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    Best movie I've seen this year, and probably the best "Western" I've ever seen.

    Costner returns in force. Great cinematography too.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] out of 5
     
  8. Mark Beise

    Mark Beise Agent

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    This was a great movie. Good acting, solid story, well paced, a really good time. It was nice to see Costner in a really good film again. Heck, this movie makes me want to take a second look at "The Postman". Well, maybe not [​IMG]

    Open Range=[​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] out of [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  9. Brad Porter

    Brad Porter Screenwriter

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    I've been waiting for a great Western for several years, and I'll accept Open Range as a near miss. There are several elements that I would commend highly, including the deliberate pacing, the lingering shots on beautiful, wide open vistas, and the basic construction of the plot. Robert Duvall remains one of my favorites screen personalities, and his Boss character will seem very familiar to most audiences. Kevin Costner has developed a weathered, sun-baked look that suits his character quite well.

    However, the film is hindered by some anachronistic dialogue, and I was personally pulled out of the film by some disjointed scene transitions and a distracting use of slow motion in key sequences. The scenes in the gunfight that had the most lasting impact to me were shown in real time with no manipulative score to guide the viewer. I would have preferred that they use this approach throughout.

    But the two biggest detractions for me were the broad charicatures used in place of properly motivated antagonists and the delayed resolution of the romantic subplot. The cattle baron that rules the town is a stock character in Westerns, but Baxter is revealed as nothing more than a one-dimensional "evil man" at the precise moment when some real character development would have really taken the film to the next level. I felt a real twinge of disappointment during the showdown sequence, since I had been holding out hope for a more engaging conflict. Finally, the romance was a pleasant distraction until the final scenes of the film. After a certain point the scenes between Charley and Sue attain that unfortunate "get it over with already" feeling. This could have been avoided entirely by excising two or three unnecessary scenes.

    So there's 90% of a great film here, and it's worth a viewing if you temper your expectations a bit.

    Brad
     
  10. MichaelW

    MichaelW Stunt Coordinator

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    I saw this film over the weekend and although I will not say it is the greatest Western I have ever seen, I will certainly say it is the best since Unforgiven came out in 1992. (That is a freakin' really long time since a really good Western came out my friends.)

    In opposition to some of the interesting reviews above, I actually like the pacing of the movie and would probably vote to have it made longer. I thought the beginning of movie helps to set the pace these "freegrazers" normally work at and is more realistic for life in the late 1800's. I don't tend to be one of those that needs major action all the time and I find Westerns that have their characters make "3 day journeys" in 3 seconds to be unrealistic.

    I agree with Edwin in that I would have liked to have seen more between Costner and Bening because a) the relationship did seem a little rushed and b) I just would have liked to have seen a little more of Bening [​IMG] . I do think that back in the day, things like this worked suprisingly similar to the pace we see in the movie especially for people that age. Tough to be unmarried back then, especially for women.

    As an aside: Congratulations once again to Costner for having a woman in the movie who is at least reasonably close in age. His track record for using BEAUTIFUL but appropriate-aged women is stellar and adds to his movies. (Costner - 48; Bening - 45; Russo - 49; McDonnell - 51; Madigan - 53) (Some slightly notable exceptions: Preston - 41; Penn - 37) Traditional hollywood would have had Brittney Murphy playing Bening's part. Although I did notice his choice for a true-life wife doesn't follow this same pattern. [​IMG]

    Regardless, this is one EXCELLENT movie and should be toward the tops of your lists in my opinion.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] out of 4 stars
     

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