Movie Reviews
3:11 pm
Mon August 11, 2003

Open Range

Costner evokes the visual images and conventions of the genre so perfectly it seems I saw a half dozen classics at that screening.

The opening sequences of director/star Kevin Costner's "Open Range" feel like Cinemascopic reveries, or maybe replicas of his vistas in "Dances with Wolves," with wide expanses of prairie, long lines of meandering cattle, and grizzled cowboys. I was hooked because westerns were the reason I began a lifelong affection for film. Costner evokes the visual images and conventions of the genre so perfectly it seems I saw a half dozen classics at that screening.

The "Unforgiven's" former outlaw called into service is there; "The Magnificent Seven's" reluctant gunfighters protecting a cowardly town are there; "High Noon's" standoff makes an appearance (with an older Grace Kelly in the radiant, mature Annette Bening, sexy wrinkles abounding); and the OK corral fight, which Costner has acted before, is sharper than ever as the director reduces the music and emphasizes the dull bang of the guns, in a revisionist neo-realism. It all seems new to me.

The moralizing about respect and duty, the need to start over, the fight with greedy landowners, the difficult question of free grazing over land rights, the need to face down evil (President Bush should love this film) are present. Costner knows how to set the troubles of little people in front of the vast land they love as backdrop for their inalienable right to be free and grow. Like Clint Eastwood, he knows how to revise the genre where the issues are not always clear and the good guys not always good.

When you ask Robert Duvall to play "Boss," an old timer in an 1882 of change, you are asking one of the great American actors to do what he does best, play a tough but tender hearted old coot with something to teach the youngsters and enough world-weariness to know his days are over.

I am as excited as I was with "Seabiscuit" this summer. Both represent what American filmmakers of classical cinema do best: big photography, big themes, big stars, and big emotions. I love subtle French films like "Swimming Pool," so that's how good "Open Range" is.