For much of his post directorial debut career Kevin Costner has been associated with some of Hollywood's greatest debacles, most notably for starring in Waterworld (1995), what was at that time considered the most expensive movie ever and then choosing to direct and star in The Postman (1997) his much maligned sophomore directorial effort. The black cloud over his head should fade following the successful run of his third movie, Open Range, apparently Costner's attempt at a revival of the Western genre. The movie successfully achieves in weaving a tale of revenge, struggle and coming to terms with ones past, without being overly preachy or sentimental about any of these issues.
Costner and Robert Duvall play Charley and Boss, forming one half of a group who are called 'free grazers'; nomads of the old West. They are accompanied by two others, large Mose and considerably young Button. Severe all night rains result in the quartet losing their supplies and some of their horses. To replenish their food and lost goods, Mose is asked to make his way back to the nearest town. When he doesn't return, Boss and Charley go out in search of him, only to find him bruised battered and behind bars for apparently initiating and taking part in a brawl. The town is headed by Baxter (Michael Gambon) who takes to instantly disliking these men.
Mose is patched up by the town doctor, where Charley first locks eyes with Sue (Annette Bening), the doctor's assistant. On returning to their cattle and supplies outside the town, they learn they are being followed by a select few from the town, bent on stealing their cattle and causing general disarray. One thing leads to another and a series of confrontations occur, which only result in things getting more out of control. Its interesting to see how the situation builds from one wrongly handled situation to another, only to culminate in what is arguably this years most superb gunfight, but more on that later.
What doesn't work on the other hand is the romance between Bening's Sue and Costner's Charley. Initially its almost a relief to see Charley has more to himself that a gruff exterior and a quite demeanor and his falling for Sue is handled well, until the point towards the end when it tries to take centre stage and become much more than just a romance. Had the romantic subplot been limited to the background, the film would have been much better without it. Its insistence on trying to hammer us with the idea that Charley has a human side seemed unduly welcome, especially in the aftermath of the violent battle on the streets of the town. Their relationship by then depends too much on our expecting them to fall for one other.
This minor set back notwithstanding, the movie is a picturesque delight, with great shots of the wide untouched West and some heavily rain drenched set pieces. Duvall is an absolute marvel to watch. His Boss speaks with an all knowing sparkle in his eye, and we are assured that all of his dialogues are uttered with conviction. The movie would have us believe that although these two men have spent a decade together, there is still much they don't know about one another, if only as a plot mechanism for the audience to learn more about them.
To end this review without another mention of the superb gunfight sequence in the last act would be sinful. It is loud to the point that it rings in your ears, it is frantic and confused, and we are assured by Costner, this is how real gunfights would probably feel like. I have no doubt that Costner has a point, since it's been too long since onscreen violence was portrayed this accurately. Its intensity is such that each bullet hits like a thundering thud, and no matter how many times I tried to prepare myself for the next shot fired, I jumped each time gun powder exploded on the screen. At one point in the movie Duvall exclaims, "We came here for justice, not vengeance". Well, such is the nature of violence that in the end it can overpower all other human emotion. - Faizan Rashid