In the beautiful, open prairies of the West live four cattlemen who let their livestock roam free. Boss (Robert Duvall), Charley (Kevin Costner), Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and Button (Diego Luna) have become a band of friends who make the best of their rough, “uncivilized” lifestyle by working together and following an honor code. They wouldn’t want to live any other way.
As the men track their herd, they’re drawn closer to Harmonville, a small town controlled by corrupt lawmen and a tyrannical rancher. They all know, Boss and Charley in particular, that trouble will brew between themselves and the locals. The free-grazing rancher lifestyle is a dying one, and sure enough, turmoil brews as the men are forced to fight for their freedom.
Kevin Costner directs 2003’s Open Range, which was adapted for the screen by Craig Storper from a novel by Lauran Paine. This is one of four films that Costner has directed, and his second Western, the first being Dances with Wolves. The other two films are both post-apocalyptic dramas.
Open Range reminds me of many of my favorite 1990s/early millennium dramas. Legends of the Fall and A River Runs Through It come to mind in particular, as they are also epic tales of life’s hardships with solid casts.
Like both of those films, the pace of Open Range could have been picked up ever-so-lightly, but this isn’t a major problem. Though the film is nearly two and a half hours long, it managed to hold my attention throughout the majority of its running time.
As someone who is more accustomed to watching films that run at 100 minutes or less, lengthy films can take a bit of getting used to for me, and my need to be fully gripped by the plot becomes much larger. Luckily, Open Range isn’t the type of Western that relies heavily on horseback battles or dusty duels to hold its viewer. Violent conflict is not given priority over storytelling. All of the action is seamlessly connected to the journey of these men, never gratuitous.
In terms of the action-vs.-plot split, this film is somewhat divided, though that doesn’t mean it feels fractured. A lot of time is devoted to explorations of the characters and their different lifestyles/personalities. Action sequences pop up more frequently in the film’s second half, but still never overpower the attention paid to the characters and their interwoven storylines.
Open Range works well as a drama and as a Western. I can definitely see myself watching this one again. It far exceeded my expectations.
Did it boost my appreciation of the Western genre? YES. It generally sticks to the genre’s conventions but not so much that it’s too predictable. It also provides more character development than I’ve seen in most of my limited viewing of these films. The cast is good, the story is good and though the running time is a little bit long the film is generally quite engrossing.
The score: 4.5/5 + 0.3 puppy/Diego Luna cuddling with a puppy bonus = 4.8/5