OPEN RANGE (2003)
As much as I appreciate classic westerns starring John Wayne, James Stewart, Gregory Peck, and Clint Eastwood, and in spite of my opinion that “Once Upon a Time in the West” is the true masterpiece of the genre and is deserving of my highest esteem, the film that I consider my favorite western is Kevin Costner’s “Open Range.” It’s not the only film with memorable characters, a lean and compelling plot, and beautiful western scenery. And it’s not the only one with a good shootout, or with moral considerations that pit conscience against the matter-of-fact and largely unavoidable ruthlessness of the Old West. But it is that rare film that has a heart and soul. and I find it completely satisfying.
A young Kevin Costner costarred in “Silverado,” a film which I have just recently re-watched, and which is given much credit for resuscitating the western genre back in the 1980’s. Although a good film in many respects, it is a bit too self-conscious in its emulation of classic Hollywood westerns. It has a plot, of course, but it rambles so much that one finds it difficult to summarize it afterwards. Unlike “Open Range,” which has an elegant, understated soundtrack that is used parsimoniously, “Silverado” is constantly intruded upon by bombastic music that distracts rather than enhances. And in “Silverado,” Kevin Costner plays little more than a caricature, whereas, in “Open Range,” his role is that of a fleshed out human being.
As with most westerns, “Open Range” makes use of sweeping landscapes. There is no parched desert here, but we do get a fair helping of rolling hills and lazy river valleys set against a background of rugged, snow-laden peaks. Rather than the magnificent blue skies to which we’ve grown accustomed, though, we get dark skies and rain. In fact, the town’s main street is so flooded by the downpour that it becomes a veritable river. It is not incidental, but rather contributes significantly to plot and setting. Speaking of towns, “Open Range” does center much of its action in a typical western town (custom-built for this film, however, and dismantled afterwards) that cowers to a corrupt sheriff. And, true to the film’s title, the main story line does involve the classic western conflict between ranchers and free grazers. But weaved into the film’s plot is a simple, yet utterly believable love story. It’s not an exposition, an afterthought, or a character statement. It’s just as much a part of the film, and just as authentic in its depiction, as the inevitable climactic shootout with guns that must be reloaded, frightened townsfolk that escape to the hills, and dead bodies that must be buried in the aftermath of the bloodshed. Finally, the dialogue in “Open Range” is not polished in the least. Not only are the characters plain spoken, but much of what is said comes across as insipid and vastly uninspired. Some viewers might fault the screenplay. Not me. I find the dialogue refreshingly authentic.
Sometimes one cannot justify, by way of pure analysis, the favor one showers upon a film. Some films just have a quality about them that one finds personally appealing. And it’s not necessarily the masterpiece that wins the most favor. I’ll be watching “Once Upon a Time in the West” again soon. But I had to watch “Open Range” first.
Pleased to see one of my favourite westerns getting a good review here David. My own short appreciation, from 2013, can be viewed here. http://beetleypete.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/some-western-films/ You might like to consider submitting this for publication on this site; http://aworldoffilm.com/ They recently published one of my reviews.
Regards from England, Pete.
Pete, I checked out your review of “Open Range” and posted a comment there. Have you also reviewed “Once Upon a Time in the West” on your blog? You stated that you don’t care much for the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone. Those obviously include Eastwood’s “Dollars” trilogy. But what about this masterful epic, with its unique opening train station sequence, and its brilliant casting of Henry Fonda as the blue-eyed villain?
David, there is no review of ‘Once Upon a Time…’ as i just don’t like it. I know that everyone thinks it is a masterpiece, and I can see some validity in the construction, but Leone’s film-making leaves me completely cold. I don’t get it. And it is not for want of trying, as I have watched them all. I even hate the much-lauded music, and don’t get me started on the sounds of the gunfire, and bullets!
One of those cinema ‘experiences’ that I will just have to do without, sorry to say.
Regards as always, Pete.
Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns are visceral in tone, and are masterpieces in terms of visuals (Leone) and music (Ennio Morricone). They aren’t my favorites, but I do respect them and enjoy watching them. Although we differ in our appreciation of these films, I am quite pleased that we share a fondness for “Open Range.” I do pay attention to the critical evaluations of films, but, ultimately, it’s the personal factor that determines whether a film is a favorite or not. I’m going to list the westerns I have so that you can browse the titles. As always, I appreciate your input, and your opinions, whether shared or not, are always of great value to me.