'Dust settles on the 'Open Range' conflict
Open Range' -- R
A western whose conflict is centered on politics, "Open Range" is a marginal cowboy movie with an intriguing premise yet faltering dialogue.
While action movies are sparse at the box office this weekend, "Open Range" is a viable alternative for those who have already experienced "S.W.A.T." and aren't bothered by some hackneyed characters.
Based on the novel by Lauran Paine and directed by Kevin Costner, "Open Range" follows the free grazing cattle drivers Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall), Charlie Waite (Costner), Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and mousy sidekick "Button" (Diego Luna) as they push their sizable herd through the grasslands of the western prairie. Happening upon a town that frowns upon their ways, the group is attacked by a nasty Irish rancher named Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon), who has Mose killed and "Button" badly beaten (he considers them to be trespassers on his land). Seeking shelter from Baxter, Charlie and Boss hole up with the town doctor's sister, Sue Barlow (Annette Bening) and plan their retaliation against the seedy rancher.
The rift between the townsfolk and the free-grazers is illustrated clearly and makes for an interesting premise. However, the execution of this generally good idea falls flat due to a main character who bores the audience with his moody delivery. While many westerns have a villain who is the scourge of the county and a scrubbed hero who is loved by the common man, "Open Range" shows a protagonist who is seen as the problem. Concurrently, the antagonist is portrayed as a businessman who simultaneously upholds and oppresses the community through his political power (bringing Costner's previous flop, "Robin Hood," to mind).
This would all be well and good if it weren't for the fact that Costner is the same character he played in "Robin Hood." While Duvall is excellent as always, Costner fails to introduce any new elements to make the character endearing to the audience unlike Luna and Benrubi, who despite lack of screen time, are far more appealing.
Gambon is fair enough as the dastardly Baxter, but isn't overly remarkable, while the striking Bening seems like a genuinely nice lady who ends up making an unlikely choice for a husband.
The action in the movie is limited compared to the character interaction, but is fast and fun when it shows up. Gunfire is louder and more realistic here than it is in most westerns, and some camera effects work to make the dusty brawls more dynamic. Though most of the film is shot during adverse weather, the rolling hills and mountains used in the backdrop lend a very convincing, untamed atmosphere to the piece.
While he does have his moments on screen, Costner would do well to remember that both acting and directing take a lot of work, sometimes more than a body is able to handle simultaneously. This picture had some interesting plot points, but the novelty had worn off by the time the dust settled.
Three out of five stars.
Loren Thomas is a senior at Century High School. To respond to reviews in Sound &; Vision, call 252-1111, category TEEN (8336); write Teen Beat, Post-Bulletin, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903-6118 or send e-mail to email@example.com.