Saturday, August 30, 2003

Open Range (IMDB) (Netflix)

One of the great battles over land use in the United States took place in the late 1900s between land-owning ranchers and free-rangers, the cowboys who drove their cattle across the prairie to market, largely ignoring property rights. In most Westerns, the cattle drivers wear the black hats, but this time it’s the ranchers, typified by Michael Gambon, who are the bad guys. Probably has something to do with Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall playing the cow punchers. Gambon adopts the-best-defense-is-an-overwhelming-offense posture, going too far and inciting Costner and Duvall to take matters into their own hands. Sortof a buddy revenge movie, with Annette Bening threatening to break up the team.

The Canadian Rockies never looked better, or rainier, and Costner hasn’t been this grubby-looking since Waterworld and The Postman. Yet the dialog is often clunky, with too many speeches, and everybody’s got such a troubled backstory that you'll think you’ve stumbled on a French Foreign Legion outpost. Paced beyond leisurely; apparently Costner was thinking he was directing an epic, or at least the sequel to Dances with Wolves. Duvall overcomes the material, and the gun battles have a messy, awkward brutality that’s refreshing. While a respectable effort, given the dearth of Westerns in the theaters, it’s a shame this wasn’t more on the money.