movie trailer (apple.com - quicktime)
NOTE: Another great Spoiler/Review spoiler was sent in by Carl Zapffe.
"Open Range"(Grade A, Highly Recommended) does take its time to do some really good things, as the movie's run time is 2 hours and 15 minutes. This leisurely pacing allows it to flesh out each character and each new circumstance, plus plenty of time being allowed for the many quiet shots of the awe inspiring vistas. The gorgeous mountain country of British Columbia should receive star billing for it is this desolate open country, so beautifully photographed, that gives such a special flavor to this movie. To its very great credit, the long run time of this movie suggests the tedium of every day life without being at all boring.
The characterizations are wonderful. Costner has wisely chosen to play the partner, perhaps even the second fiddle, to Robert Duvall, who gives a masterful performance. Annette Bening strikes all the right notes as a Doctor's sister somewhat past her prime, but who still has dreams of finding her man.
The characters that Costner and Bening play both instantly recognize that the other is that very person for whom they have long searched, but, tragically, they both have had so little practice with the thinking and the mouthing of those most important words of love that they very nearly almost don't get said.
Great credit and even gratitude should be given to James Muro as the cinematographer for this exquisitely filmed movie. Every scene is like a painting and the camera shots often use unusual angles to create new vistas or to frame the larger than life personalities. The close in shots of the characters are reminiscent of some of the great Westerns of the 1950's with the larger than life persons filling the screen in camera shots placed much lower than eye level. In many respects this film with its wide angle horizon shots powerfully emphasizing the vastness of the open spaces resembles the very best of those of David Lean, and that is a high compliment indeed. But well deserved in this instance.
It cannot go without mention that the gunfight that serves as the climax to this movie is probably the best one that I have ever seen. Everything seems to be so realistic that it is easy to feel like an actual bystander rather than merely being a patron in a darkened movie theater. I would guess that the volume during the gunfight was cranked way up and that every shot was "miked" with the result that each "kaboom" more than realistically reverberates throughout the theater auditorium.
"Open Range" is great fun, a sweet romance, and a very fine movie.
It is nice to see Costner back at the top of his game. Duvall and Bening never left theirs. James Muro's cinematography is astonishing in its beauty and originality. This is about as good as a Western can get!
"Boss" Spearman (Robert Duvall) and his crew are herding their cattle across the wide open spaces when they decide to set camp in advance of a summer storm that quickly bears down on them.
The storm scatters the cattle and the heavy rainfall ends up causing the chuck wagon to sink in the mud. When the sun finally comes out, Boss and his right hand man, Charley Waite (Kevin Costner), go off to round up the cattle while Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and "Button" (Diego Luna, "Y tu mama tambien") stay behind to reorganize the camp site.
Boss Spearman has been a cattle man, an open ranger, for many years, but he would like to cash out and use the proceeds to buy a saloon. He sees the many fences springing up that will eventually end up making cattle drives impossible and they all remember the frosty reception that they had received while passing through the last town some few miles back. Stories even have it that "free rangers" were ambushed and killed in this same area recently. Boss talks about settling down after this drive, a drive that he wistfully hopes may be his last one.
Boss' sidekick, best friend, and all around right hand man, Charley Waite, killed his first man while still a teenager. Shot him in the neck as he was trying to deliver a bill to his mother. He quickly picked up the gunslinging trade and the Civil War only served to allow him to learn every horrible aspect of this misbegotten career. He was even placed in an army unit where using brutal murders to demoralize the enemy was a particular specialty.
Strangely enough, Charlie was always able mentally to step back from his career as a hired gun. He has not lost his conscience and he has always known that what he has done for years, although a necessity, was wrong. He was just the very best at doing this distasteful work when it had to be done. But there was always a dream for a different and far better life tugging at the back of his mind.
Although everyone is armed to the teeth in those days far from civilization where danger often lurked over the next ridge or around the next river bend, Boss usually left this work to Charlie. They had been together for ten years now and each trusted the other implicitly. They had the tight friendship of a hand and glove where each fit with and perfectly complimented the other.
This is in spite of the fact that neither of these men knew many of the little details of the other's life before they had started working together a decade earlier.
The repairs and the gathering of the scattered cattle necessitated by the storm has thrown them off schedule enough that the crew has run out of some of the staples that make any road trip worthwhile. The little pleasures, like a fresh cup of coffee in the morning, have been missed for a day or two now. Boss decides that maybe they ought to return to that town they had just passed for these items before they get too far away from it. Button is too young to go by himself and Boss always needs to have Charlie nearby, so Mose is sent back to the town some 15 miles away in what is expected to be a trip lasting no more than a day.
At the end of the first day, Mose has not returned to their camp. Nor the second day, which is highly unusual as he has always been a very responsible person. When Mose doesn't show up the third day, Boss realizes that something must be wrong, so the three of them saddle up for a ride into town.
The natural thing that Mose would have done is first to have gone to the country store, and that is exactly where his three comrades head. Ralph (Cliff Saunders) and his wife (Patricia Stutz), the friendly owners of the store inform them that, yes, Mose had stopped in the store three days before, but had gotten into a fight and is now "recuperating" in the town's jail down the street. While overtly friendly, the faces of the two owners also suggest a certain amount of tension and agitation.
Arriving at the jail, the three are cooly welcomed by the sheriff of the town, Sheriff Poole (James Russo), who is accompanied by several deputies and one other very large man sitting down behind the desk. He introduces himself as Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon, "Gosford Park" and the new Professor Dumbledore in the next Harry Potter movie).
Baxter adds that he is the largest rancher in the area and that he does not at all like "free rangers" traveling through his land. It soon becomes very clear to Spearman and Waite that Baxter pulls all the strings in this town. It is also abundantly clear that they had best get Mose out of jail as soon as possible before another fight starts, as it is clear that the men in that office of the law are angling to break it once again.
Boss and Charlie help Mose walk down the street to the doctor's office for much needed medical attention. This "office" is actually a very pretty home surrounded by a white picket fence with the medical facilities located on the first floor. Doc Barlow (Dean McDermott) is a true professional and immediately attends to Mose's wounds with the help of his assistant, Sue Barlow (Annette Bening).
Charlie can't keep his eyes off Sue Barlow as she is a very pretty woman even though she is very plainly dressed. However, the men all keep their respectful distance as all incorrectly assume Sue to be Doc's wife. For her part, Sue notices the loyalty that the men exhibit for each other and Charlie's deference to Boss' wishes.
Moss' injuries require an overnight rest in the operating room, so the three men are invited to sleep in the comfortable chairs in the waiting room on the first floor. During the night, Charlie is once again troubled by dreams of gun fighting and death just as Sue touches him to see if he is okay. Charlie leaps to his feet with his gun drawn, ready to fight. Quickly seeing that he was dreaming, he puts his gun back in his holster while he and Boss apologize to the terrified Miss Barlow. Boss explains to her that Charlie has been troubled by these dreams ever since the Civil War.
With Mose cleaned off and patched up and well rested by the next morning, Boss pulls out his billfold to pay Doc, but his offer of remuneration is rejected. Doc explains that the burly Mose more than held his own in the fight as it took three men to subdue him, and that he has been well compensated for looking after those three men in what must have been an unjust fight.
Boss and Charlie walk into the bar and order a round of whiskey before departing for their camp, but the bartender refuses to serve them. The barroom chatter ceases and a strained silence fills the darkened room. He has been instructed to refuse service to free rangers and it is only when Charlie pulls out his gun and shoots the mirror behind the bar that they are finally served. With the sheriff and several of Baxter's minions quickly summoned to the bar, Boss publicly announces to all of them that what has happened to their friend, Mose, a "good man," is horribly unjust and that they will be back to extract revenge and enforce their own law in good time.
Back at camp and ready to move on, the men suddenly notice four riders wearing masks eyeing them from a distant hill. Charlie has done this kind of thing for so many years that he usually knows exactly how every conceivable situation will play out. He tells Boss that the best way to handle this situation is not to wait for these men to ambush them but instead to bring the battle back to them on terms more favorable to Boss and Charlie.
The four men are sleeping peacefully late at night at their campsite in a nearby woods. Taking the site is a piece of cake and the four men are prisoners almost before they are awake. Their horses are scattered, their guns are taken, and, as a final insult, Boss and Charlie have the men strip to their skivvies to impede their later pursuit of the men on their cattle drive.
Now feeling secure, Boss and Charlie head back to their own camp only to discover, to their horror, that they have been outflanked. A second team of gunmen has snuck into their camp just as they had done to the others, only the outcome is much worse, much more cruel and vindictive. Rather than Mose and Button being left in their skivvies like the others, they have both been shot and left for dead. Mose has been killed, but Button is found to be unconscious and only suffering from a head wound. Tragically, even their pet dog who has accompanied them for years on all these drives has been cruelly shot.
Boss and Charlie angrily bury Mose and the dog under a tree on top of a hill with a beautiful view of the surrounding valley. Not knowing himself quite what to say, Boss asks Charlie to say a few words about the deceased, which Charlie does with a few succinct words long on reverence and respect but short on religion.
This egregious act means war, and Boss and Charlie saddle up for a ride back to town with Button riding in the chuck wagon. They arrive at the Barlow home and leave Button to the care of Sue, as Doc Barlow is out treating others. Sue is very capable in her care of the young man as she has been the doctor's assistant for many years.
They had learned before leaving town on their last visit that Sue is the doctor's sister and not his wife. The air is thick with sexual tension and longing, but neither Sue nor Charlie know what to say.
Charlie and Boss leave to go into town, but Boss turns to Charlie and tells him, "For heaven's sake, man, tell her what you think. You might not get another chance." He then sends Charlie back to the equally anxious Sue, who has been watching them as they have departed.
Charlie tells her what a fine looking woman she is, but finishes on a rather ominous note suitable for the moment when he tells her that "There's going to be some killing today, and I am the one who is going to do it." He has loved her from the first moment he laid eyes on her, but even now his unselfish concern for her well being prompts him to warn her that he is not a man of healing but rather a man of killing.
Boss and Charlie go to their chuck wagon for cover. Both today and before they had enlisted the services of the stable owner for the care and the feeding of their horses while in town. The chuck wagon rests directly behind the stable and Charlie and Boss finish a piece of special Belgian chocolate before the sheriff and Baxter's men approach.
The stable owner is a diminutive man all hyped up with nervous energy. He climbs up to the second floor of the large stable and races back and forth between the two large openings that serve to give him an excellent perspective on the approaching gunfight.
Streams of women and children flee the town for the sanctuary of the church on the opposite hill. Baxter and his men are apparently none too popular with the townspeople, as the stable owner flashes the sheriff's location to Boss and Charlie.
He races back and forth in the excitement, glad to be of help. Five men are here, he flashes to Boss and Charlie with five fingers held up. Three men are coming that way as he points in another direction with three fingers held up.
Denton Baxter walks behind a team of deputy sheriffs and hired guns. Charlie identifies the one famous hired gun and asks him if he was the one who killed Mose. "Yeah, and I enjoyed it," the man replies with a toothless grin. Quicker than greased lightening, Charlie pulls his gun out and plugs him right in his forehead.
The shooting breaks out all over and Boss and Charlie slowly assert their superiority. This is partly due to their skill, especially that of Charlie's, but also due to the two scatter guns that they carry with them. Also serving as invaluable help are the flashed clues from the stable owner and others who give away the hidden locations of the hired guns.
About a dozen men are dispatched with Boss and Charlie hardly scratched by the many bullets whizzing past. Sensing their impending loss, one of the gun hands grabs Sue and holds a pistol to her throat and threatens Boss with her death unless he surrenders. Charlie sneaks around the building and up behind him and shoots him dead before he has a chance to react. Witness to his cold, brutal efficiency, Sue stands there dumbfounded, not knowing quite what to say.
In the final, climactic moments of the gun fight, Charlie is badly wounded in his arm. Baxter has also been badly wounded and has crawled into the sheriff's office for his own sanctuary. Boss finds him there, and, for a moment, contemplates murdering him as he lies there helpless on the floor. Realizing that this would make him the kind of man that he wishes Charlie weren't and equal to all these other hired thugs, he drops his gun to his side and exclaims that Baxter isn't worth wasting a bullet on.
The townspeople stream out from everywhere, deliriously happy that they have their town back again. Boss and Charlie and Sue get on their horses, the two men ready to ride back and retrieve their cattle. Sue wants to come along, but Charlie tells her to stay with the admonition, "What kind of a marriage are we going to have if you don't listen to what I tell you now?"
Boss assures Sue and the Doc that they will return as quickly as possible as that saloon now needs a new owner and he is going to run it with Charlie, his new partner. It is a bright and sunny day and Boss and Charlie ride off together and Sue and her brother, who has warmly accepted Charlie as a future new member of his family, watch them go and wave them on.