Open Range, a classic western directed by Kevin Costner

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Open Range
Chris LARGE – © 2004 Tig Productions / Cobalt Media Group / Beacon Pictures

Open Range, released in 2004, is broadcast this Friday on France 3 at 9:05 p.m. The opportunity to (re) discover our review published at the time in Première.

Shouldn’t kill the dog. En route to accompany their herd, Boss Spearman and Charley Waite stop near a small town where they are assaulted by the henchmen of local tyrant Denton Baxter. Result: a dead, an injured and a dog killed on the side of Boss, who leaves with Charley to face Baxter. In town, they attract the sympathy of a few residents, in particular the doctor’s sister …

Settling scores

Open Range is a classic western all the way to cow horns. We see there the traditional confrontation between wild capitalism (the big landowners) and the individual enterprise (the itinerant breeders). The rapid transition from the wild to civilization forces characters to consider what is good and what is not so good about this change. Kevin Costner, in the central role, drags the usual killer past and seeks redemption by adjusting, which in his case is sleeping under a roof and getting married. Each of these themes recalls the classics of the genre, from Rio Bravo To Ruthless without the film ever reaching this level.

Nothing new under the sun therefore (nor in the rain, both serving to reflect the mood of Costner’s character). The scenario is content to take its time to detail in a realistic and nuanced way both life in the great outdoors and collective behavior. The inhabitants are not all passive cowards: some are committed against the tyranny of Baxter.

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What makes the strength of the film is obviously its interpretation, as often when an actor directs. Robert Duvall probably finds there the role he had dreamed of all his life, even if he has already played in westerns. Between the nature of his character who never says a word unnecessarily and the script’s propensity to make him talk about individual freedom, there is a contradiction that Duvall passes with incredible class.

Kevin Costner has reserved a role he loves, that of the cracked one who ruminates on a dark past. His sentimental involvement with the doctor’s sister is touching (thank you Annette Bening) although it is insufficiently sided so as not to appear artificial.

Behind the camera, Costner narrowly avoids heaviness and bombast, but not slowness. James Muro’s photo works a lot on light, and, for a former steadycamer, it surprises by the stability of its framing? The vast (Canadian) spaces are filmed like a lost paradise and accentuate the contrast with the urban violence. The film, which could have been shot twenty years ago, is seen with pleasure, but perplexity: at no time does it manage to make people forget that what it tells has already been said before, and better.

The trailer forOpen Range :

Kevin Costner: “I rise on the bad guy ladder”

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