Open Range
2003
Kevin Costner directs and stars in this Western about four free-grazing ranchers whose cattle meander close to a small town ruled by a greedy sheriff and his cronies. Forced to defend their way of life, the cowboys take on the corrupt leaders.

Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

Once upon a time, I went to see "Titanic" in a movie theater with Matt Preston on opening day, before anybody knew much about it, including its running time. After ninety minutes of romance, the iceberg struck the ship. Matt leaned forward in his chair, eager to watch the quick sinking of the ship so that he could make a badly-needed trip to the men's room. As the scenes dragged on and it began to dawn on him that the sinking would take even longer than the setup, he slowly retreated back against his seat with a noticeable resentment.

I couldn't help but recall that moment while watching "Open Range," a movie that is obviously going to end with a gunfight. The motivation is established, and the characters enter town for the battle, talking about how they're ready to get it over with... and then there's another forty minutes to go before anyone pulls a trigger. Not that it hurts the film, because nearly every scene is pleasantly watchable in its own right, but wishing the characters would just get the ending over with so they could get on with their lives doesn't do much to keep the fire of interest burning.

And yet it's mostly a very good film, well acted by Robert Duvall in particular, who these days seems nearly incapable of being boring. The nature photography is excellent, albeit laid on a little thick, as if Costner felt insecure in his nature-photography street cred. Best of all, the film is believeable, despite consisting almost entirely of genre clichés, due to Costner's belief in the material. Watch the glimmer of fury he demonstrates when he kills the man who takes Annette Bening hostage in the alley, and his dark past seems like more than an fireside anecdote. You can't make an old-fashioned movie without conviction, and this film has it, through good decisions and bad. It's satisfying, but there's better available on the rental shelf right now.

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