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1001 Overlooked Movies - Open Range (2003)

A reformed gunslinger is forced to return to his violent ways.


Directed by: Kevin Costner
Starring: Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Diego Luna, Annette Bening, Michael Gambon, Michael Jeter


The career of Kevin Costner is a strange one. From his can-do-no-wrong streak of 'No Way Out', 'The Untouchables' and 'Field of Dreams' to the ignominy and critical brickbats of 'Waterworld' and 'The Postman'. Critics seemed hostile after Kevin was deemed to have stolen Scorsese's Oscar for 'Goodfellas', ignoring the fact that, a certain charming naivete aside, 'Dances With Wolves' would have been a worthy best film winner any other time of the year.
He seems to have disappeared from view a bit now, appearing in a television mini series and an all too brief appearance in this years 'Man of Steel', which he heroically managed to make interesting in the five minutes he was on screen.
Costner's ability to be down at home shucks earnest and likable has always made him well suited to the western, which makes it a great shame that his last film as director, 'Open Range', has been little seen or talked about since its release. It's by far his best film, eschewing the grand scale of 'Dances' for something smaller and more contained, still wide in scope but focusing on the little details as the Wild West comes to an end and the Rail road and word of law comes to town.
This is the last great Western. Its leisurely running time and devotion to character and cinematography seem from another era. A whole scene involving the main characters' inability to handle a delicate china cup would induce a seizure to the Michael Bays of this world. This is a small film played out in a large scope where small actions have large consequences. Every death in this film occurs because of cattle grazing, making Michael Gambon's despot rancher the proto "NIMBY" with a shotgun.
Not only a powerful Western then but also a film about love. The platonic fatherly love between Costner and the always brilliant Robert Duvall, but also the blossoming love between Costner and Annette Benning's Sue Barlow, two characters who have shut down their emotions, only to realize that, late in life, they are two people worthy of love.
If this sounds like a subversion of the genre then fear not, all the classic elements are there; amazing vistas (lensed by James Muro, director of Grindhouse classic 'Street Trash'), honor, a dastardly villain in Michael Gambon's Denton Baxter, an old-timey yokel with a sense of honor (played by the late great Michael Jeter) and a "man's gotta do what a man's gotta do" climactic gunfight that is not only a high point of the film but a high watermark in all of Western Cinema. This is a shoot out as it would have happened; up close, inaccurate, gruesome and slow. Made and edited with such craft that not only is it a tragedy that Costner has not directed anything since, it's tantamount to a crime.
If you haven't seen it yet, then do yourself a favor and get this. Settle down on a Sunday afternoon and watch an unheralded masterpiece. It's a lie that they don't make them like they used to when referring to Classic Hollywood. It's just a shame that, when they do, no one seems to be watching.


The official '1001 Movies' list includes the following movies from 2003 - The Barbarian Invasions, Kill Bill: Vol 1, Oldboy, Goodbye Lenin, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Best of Youth, Lost in Translation


Jason Abbey

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