Kevin Costner has
a reputation for long, boring movies. I
didn’t see Waterworld, but I still become almost comatose
remembering sitting through the trailer for The Postman.
But you got to give it to the guy.
He’s got Chutzpah. He makes another long, talky movie, and he casts himself to
co-star with Robert Duvall (Boss). The
story, which is sort of a neo-High Noon, pits “open range” cattle
drivers, who would let their cattle graze anywhere, which was the Common Law
of England and was adopted in most of the United States, against ranchers
who owned their graze land and fenced it off.
The year is 1882. The
locale is unknown, identified as the “Old West,” but I’d guess
Wyoming. Denton Baxter (Michael
Gambon) is the rancher who runs the town and tries to drive Duvall and his
herd away, killing one of Boss’s men, prompting Boss and Charley Waite
(Costner) to seek revenge. Normally
I would be philosophically aligned with the rancher, who bought his land and
didn’t like “open range grazers” to use his land to graze their
cattle. Doesn’t that make sense? Why
should someone else be able to bring his cattle onto someone else’s land
to graze? Alas, here he’s a
In addition to
defending what appear to be the wrong people, Open Range has some
basic flaws. For one,
Costner’s character, Waite, is impossible.
Nobody with his background, having done what he’s done in a Union
Civil War outfit that sounds a lot like Quantrill’s Raiders (a Confederate
band of killers in Kansas who marauded and killed in cold blood anyone they
could find who might be a Union soldier or sympathizer; Jesse James and the
Younger Brothers were members), could be the person portrayed in the movie.
Nor could anyone with a character like Waite’s win the love of a
woman of high character like Sue Barlow (Annette Benning)…and so
fast…and with so little exposure!
Costner himself. I’ve seen him in many movies and he’s always Kevin
Costner. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Kevin Costner.
He seems like a nice guy. But
whether he’s Eliot Ness, or looking for a message in a bottle, or a
cold-blooded killer, he’s always, well, Kevin Costner. As Dorothy Parker
said of Katherine Hepburn, he runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.
Then there’s the
“love interest” between Waite and Barlow.
They have one conversation that lasts for about two minutes and fall
madly in love; maybe because they’re the only two people in the town who
look like movie stars. The sad
part of this is that, apart from the love interest, the movie looks pretty
authentic. The clothes, the town, the storm…all look like they could
have been that way in 1882. You
can almost smell Costner’s filth as he lopes around.
However, there sure seemed to be a lot of people living in this
small, one-street town.
one scene involving Sue Barlow that’s so laughable it reminded me of a
scene from The Great Race, where Tony Curtis walks through a pie
throwing fight in an immaculate white suit.
Pies are flying all over the place. They go over and around and under
Curtis. But when the fight’s
over, his white suit is as clean as when the fight started.
The problem is that in The Great Race the scene is meant to be
funny. In Open Range
it’s meant to be deadly serious.
Too bad, because
this is an involving film. Although
it’s Costner-long, at 2 hours 15 minutes plus (published running times
vary from this to ten minutes longer), for me it didn’t drag.
There is a lot of talk, but I felt that the tension built throughout
into the climax. Although
we’re told that there are only 8 gunmen against Waite and Boss, it seems
as if they’re shooting at everyone West of the Pecos except Wyatt Earp.
There were other
things I liked about the film. For
one thing they didn’t seem to be using partial loads to keep down the
noise of gunfire. When someone fires in the climax, it sounds like a real gun.
I really enjoyed Duvall. Playing
against the glacial Costner, Duvall gives a powerful performance as a tough,
rough-edged cattle herder.
Despite all my
criticism (hey, that’s my job!), and notwithstanding its mushy ending, the
last ten minutes of which are so out of sync with the rest of the movie they
look like they were added later in response to women’s comments in
previews, I enjoyed Open Range.
August 16, 2003