Open Range (2003) Revisited


A few years ago I found Open Range (2003) whilst I was just discovering the western genre, my final year at art-school, I was eager to explore beyond the classic genre, knowing that it starred both Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner both synonymous with the genre. My first reaction to my first viewing of this film was more negative than positive, the pastoral image of the open country that greets us at the start of the film is soon lost to an adult western. And that’s thinking that Stagecoach (1939) was adult, that’s considering it was released over 60 years earlier, the genre has grown up for its time, now here’s another take on a tried and tested plot that allows for more adult cowboys to stand up and be heard. No longer is this a young man’s game.

I think also having watching a few more westerns in between, being able to return to films I first sniffed at has helped a growing maturity that has allowed me to go back to a film that I was considering selling my copy on eBay (glad I didn’t by the way). Also reading more about the genre has opened my mind to what it’s all about, the myth of conquest originally, the birth of a new nation filled with hopes, dreams and all the danger that came with it.

Returning to the pastoral location of the west we find four men, two running the cattle outfit and two hired hands, grazing their cattle on land that is the property of cattle baron Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon) who practically owns the law and the town, trying to run these men off his land. So far it’s nothing new really, yet its the older men pushing each other around, each set in their ways, It’s only when the hired hands Mose and Button  (Abraham Benrubi  are caught in the middle, making the quarrel personal, its time to sort things out once and for all.

The remaining men ride back into town, stopping at the doctor’s house, home also to Sue Barlow (Annette Bening) who nurses the young Button. Leaving the two men to in town, revenge and justice is now on their minds. We have to wait the rest of the film for the final showdown which is indeed worth the wait, filled with personal exploration of both Boss Spearman (Duvall) and Charley Waite (Costner) more-so Waite a former civil war solider suffering from Post traumatic stress disorder, a condition that was not to be first diagnosed until well into the next century, dealt in 1800’s America with understanding from a gravelly older partner, something that would more likely have been met with bottling up your emotions and carrying on. Becoming more dangerous with a few guns strapped to his belt.

Its Spearman and Sue’s combined input that allows Charley to start to put to rest his demons before entering into a showdown I’ve not seen the likes of since Pale Rider (1985) and Tombstone (1993) within a more accurate frontier town that sees the townspeople rise up and support the classic stranger see that all men are treated with respect. A long yet not drawn out gun battle, feeling the right length for an all out gunfight. A classic delivery that last far longer than your average 5 minutes before gaining the towns respect.

Open Range is far more than I thought it was, a slow western that is too complex, when it needs to be complex to support a maturer cast who we can see need more than a love interest and wrong doing to see this film through. There is a love of the genre that is woven into the film, from the design of the town, to the cinematography of the landscape. Lead actors who have grown up in the genre, Duvall having been part of the dying classic to its present form. Whilst Costner has breathed new life and energy into a genre that has been tired at time.

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2 responses

  1. Pingback: Professor Neil Campbell (Discussion 22/3/12) | timneath

  2. Pingback: Professor Neil Campbell (Discussion 22/3/12) | Tim Neath - Visual Artist

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