It seems absolutely insane to me that the man who directed 1997’s box office and critical disaster/head scratcher “The Postman” could be behind such an assured and old-fashioned movie as this one.
“Open Range” is a throwback to the same kind of John Wayne picture that you’d see some afternoon on Turner Classic Movies or American Movie Classics. Certainly Hollywood has not seen a western this austere in recent memory. These days, people are still trying to update old formulas with hot young actors and music that doesn’t fit the time period. Clint Eastwood’s somewhat traditional “The Unforgiven” used the same conventions as “Open Range,” but while Eastwood offered a sort of final word on the genre, Costner’s film is more like a traditional homage.
Costner certainly revels in familiar themes like honor and brotherhood, but where his acting seemed corny and forced on the post-apocalyptic mail carrier of the future (not kidding!) he played in “The Postman,” it works like a charm on Charley Waite, the troubled cattleman of “Open Range.”
Casting Robert Duvall and Annette Bening wasn’t a bad idea either. He’s swimming in familiar territory here, with a basic revenge plot against a corrupt lawman and his boss. It really helps matters to have reliable and convincing actors in all of the supporting roles, however, right down to the late, great Michael Jeter and newcomer Diego Luna. The pacing is slow and deliberate, but it never drags and the scenery is beautiful.
There isn’t a lot of humor here to lighten the mood, but it seems to be just enough, and at the right times. As the familiar story progresses, it’s not hard to figure out the outcome of the film. Rather than trying to shock and disturb the genre, Costner seems content to work within it, with one minor exception.
The big gun battle at the end kicks ass. The scene is not modernized with MTV editing style and camera trickery. And it’s not some sort of cleaned up, sanitized, G-rated affair either. Rather, it’s an exciting and sometimes unpredictable shootout with its fair share of blood and a lot of missed shots. It may have actually been fairly realistic of the time period, and it was easy to follow what was happening. (It’s a particular pet peeve of mine when there’s a ton of shooting, no misses, and I can’t tell who’s shooting who!)
So while some of the Old West philosophizing gets a bit much at times, and it was somewhat predictable, “Open Range” is still a solid piece of filmmaking that I would recommend to almost anyone.