random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

DVD REVIEW: Open Range (2003) ****


R for violence.
2 hrs. 18 min.

written by: Craig Storper (screenplay) & Laruan Paine (novel, The Open Range Men)
produced by: Kevin Costner, Jake Eberts & David Valdes
directed by: Kevin Costner

I like it when I find myself sitting in a movie theater watching a film and actually realize that I'm really enjoying the experience. That was the case on a one hot summer day in August back in 2003, when I watched this movie. I remember sitting there thinking how I'd love to get away and live off the vast open plains as I maintained and defended what was mine. I also remember thinking about how this film would be received. I knew that most people already loathed Costner for movies like "Waterworld" and "The Postman" yet I remained optimistic about his work. There are, after all, worse actors out there. He's worked on enough movies that have succeeded to warrant my attention and this film was no different.

Turns out, Costner's return to the western genre wearing both acting and directing hats once again was actually a success. Many were surprised. Most critics really enjoyed his expansive tale of nomadic cattlemen making a living on the open range who take a stand against a corrupt landowner. Some say that it was an "older audience" that made the film into an unlikely hit, as audiences saddled up and headed to the cinema to the tune of $58 mil, doubling the picture's minimal budget of $26 mil. I saw many factors that contributed to this western being a modern-day masterpiece but I'll get into all of that later. There, I said the "m" word for a Kevin Costner movie. Go ahead and hang me

Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall in Touchstone's Open Range

Charley Waite (Kevin Costner) is a quiet and somewhat mysterious cattleman who has ridden with Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) as his right-hand man for many years. Boss is a straightforward, kind man who serves as an unspoken mentor to Charley, who we come to find out is haunted by his time as a gunslinger and before that, a Civil War soldier. The two mind their own business, making their living as free-range cattlemen, moving their herd across the open range. They've recently taken on some hired hands to manage their load, the gentle giant Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and the orphan Button (Diego Luna) and together with their dog Tig, they make their way cross-country.

With supplies a lil low, they send Mose to the local town of Baxter on an errand, but are worried when he doesn't return. The town is controlled by a greedy and corrupt land baron, Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon), who hates free-rangers. Charley and Boss arrive in town only to find Mose severely beaten by Baxter's men and jailed by Sheriff Poole, whom Baxter "owns." It is soon revealed that many townspeople look past Baxter's greedy dealings and accept the situation, while others secretly harbor animosity and anger towards him.

Mose needs a doctor right away, so they find one after receiving a stern warning from Baxter regarding their free-ranging. The two of them find Doc Barlow (Dean McDermott), while Charley finds a love interest in the doc's sister, Sue Barlow (Annette Bening). Although at first he mistakens her for the doc's wife which results in some humorous interplay between Bening and Costner. Baxter allowed the group to leave once, he doesn't intend on leaving the matter settled - joined with marshal Poole (James Russo), the two round up a group to finish off Boss and his men. After all, what he really wants is their herd. Boss and Charley are able to subdue some of the men but things don't go as planned after a death and a severe injury. The two face a difficult decision and eventually decide to go back into the town to seek medical help for Button and try to plan their next move.

Annette Bening in Touchstone's Open Range

Knowing that the inevitable showdown with Baxter and his men is looming, Charley and Boss gather themselves for the violent encounter. Leaving Button in the doctor's care, they enter town where during a flash flood consumes them and everyone around. Charley saves a townsperson's dog and the owner buys him and Boss some coffee. They learn more about the mixed feelings of the inhabitants of the town and who might possibly be able to help them. One of those fellas is a bearded old, hobble-legged coot named Percy (played by the late, great Michael Jeter) who runs a stable in town. He's an actor I've enjoyed since "The Fisher King" and I really liked him channeling the classic supporting actor role often seen in older westerns.

Before the final shootout, Boss and Charley go to a drugstore to spend their money on cigars and chocolate, reasoning that they might be unable to spend it later. Charley leaves money with a sympathetic townsperson to buy Sue a new tea set if he is killed. The showdown itself is an amazing cacophony of jarring gunfire with realistic ramifications. There's no crazy stunts or special effects here. With every shot fired you feel the pull-back and the smell of gunsmoke. It's a violent ballet of revenge and justice. most of the townspeople flee but the rest eventually chip in and help out Charley and Boss seeing it as their opportunity to finally stand up for what's right. After all the bloodshed, there's no rousing celebration just the dead and survivors left with decisions to either move on or rebuild.

This realism is not uncommon for modern-day westerns such as Eastwood's "Unforgiven" and the recent "Seraphim Falls", that have a morality tale to tell but spends little time romanticizing that tale. So, for those who relegate westerns to sprawling yarns where everyone looks nice, has poor aim and Indians are always the enemy....there have been and still are westerns with realism and purpose. The violence in this film is a depiction of how violent the west was. In the Old West, it wouldn't be an uncommon sight for someone to be walking down main street and BLAM! he's shot in the back or in the head and slumped to the dirt. The film doesn't just show violence for violence sake, it just shows how it would all go down in those adrenalized moments.

Costner and Duvall not only provide great work here, they were great together. Right away, I was interested in these characters and their interaction. Earlier when I hinted at the many factors that contribute to this being a masterpiece....Robert Duvall, so no more. The guy is just amazing. Anything he's in, I'll see it (even when he's Will Ferrell's soccer coach dad) and enjoy it, just cuz it's him. Here, he gives a decency and vulnerability to a character that has learned much from life. He wants to mind his own business and handle his herd but he will fight for what is his. I'll never know why he didn't get nominated for this. Probably cuz people saw Costner was attached and rolled their eyes and that's too bad cuz this is not a Costner film. Duvall owns this film in his most humble manner.

The story was adapted from a novel and doesn't really bring anything terribly new to the table in terms of the genre, although I've read reviews that it's actually better than the novel. As rare as that is, it's not too hard to imagine seeing as how much love Costner has for the genre. The writers provided subtle layers to characters and wind up turning a basic revenge tale into an intense and compelling picture. Many complained about the length of the film, something I initially did not notice. It's a minor issue to me, I've spent the same amount of time watching movies that were much worse. Because of James Muro's stunning cinematography, excellent production and costume design, the film is an example of a picture that appears to have cost twice as much as it did. The late Michael Kamen's score is also very enjoyable. The cast is fantastic together and the movie somehow takes a great deal of the old cliches from the genre and make it all wonderfully entertaining.


Special Features:

Commentary by director/star Kevin Costner provides an intelligent, enjoyable commentary for the entire film. Costner is enthusiastic and insightful with his discussion, really going through many aspects of the production process, from the difficulty of financing to trying to maintain accuracy down to small details that are not called attention to otherwise in the film. Difficult enough working on a small budget, Costner also filmed in remote locations in Alberta, Canada that were difficult to get to. He also talks about casting, themes in the film and technical issues such as production design, location shooting and cinematography.

Beyond Open Range: This is a great documentary, a lil over an hour narrated by Costner that focuses on the struggles of making this film. Costner is exceptionally honest about problems with the financing and working with people whose money may not be secure. There's no distributor in place when things begin and Costner talks frankly about the weight he feels of the kind of gamble he's taken. The first struggle is finding locations, which required going up in a helicopter over rugged landscape that was snow-covered and not supposed to be. Costner takes the viewer through the visualization process, as he shows a rather puzzled-looking Annette Bening around a miniature version of the film's town.

The documentary allows the viewer access to many of the behind-the-scenes events and discussions, such as location scouting, production meetings and building. We learn exactly what things cost and who on the crew is responsible for what aspect of the production. There are also some interesting views of some of the main scenes, such as how the crew managed to build the flood - with 32,000 gallons of water per minute flooding through the scene through an amazing system. Watching the documentary gave me a new level of respect for Costner, who displays an extraordinary degree of passion in both the documentary and his discussion in the narration. We see him trying to rally the crew, acting out scenes and in the midst of the cold, rough conditions with the rest of the crew....even working through what became severe appendix problems.

Occasional interviews are edited in during this documentary but largely, this is simply a beautifully filmed, very well-edited piece that is one of the better DVD "making of" documentaries out there.

There's also a get a documentary on the storyboarding process, complete with storyboard-to-scene comparisons and some discussions about visual effects work, as well as 30 minutes worth of deleted scenes, with on-screen intros from Costner optionally edited into the reel of footage (just the footage runs about 24 minutes. Concluding the features is a 12-minute documentary about the history of the Open Range, narrated by Costner and music video.


The Skinny:

  • The background of the movie concerns the "range wars" that occurred in the American West in the late 1800s. The "wars" pitted those that believed in the "Law of the Open Range" - free access to water and grass for everyone, against the "barbed wire" men - land barons, who used the new fencing to define their empire and block the free-range cattlemen from moving their herds.
  • Producers Costner & Eberts and 'David Valdes' put up almost half of the budget from their own money.
  • Based upon the novel "The Open Range Men" by Lauran Paine
  • Tig was not only the name of the dog in the movie, but also the name of the film's production company. Tig was also the name of Kevin Costner’s Grandmother.
  • Kevin Costner turned down Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) to do this movie
  • When we first see Denton Baxter in the sheriff's office, there is a wanted poster over his left shoulder with the name of Lloyd Buckley. Gae S. Buckley is the production designer for this film.
  • Costner spent most of time filming this movie with a burst appendix.
  • Late composer Michael Kamen replaced a score by Basil Poledouris.
  • The rifle that Charley uses in the shootout is an 1873 Winchester sporting rifle.
  • Originally the studio had Costner top-billed over Duvall, but Costner asked the studio to top-bill Duvall instead.

Interview from comingsoon.net with Costner

1 comment:

la dolce vita said...

I have said it twice and I'll say it again, I love this film. Duvall and Costner are brilliant and as far as I'm concerned Costner is a great film maker - ok not every one is a winner, but those that hit the spot, hit the top.

For Dances With Wolves, the Kennedy movies, Open Range, I'll forgive him The Postman and Message in a Bottle

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