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Open Range
Western/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/135mins
Starring: Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, Annette Bening
Director: Kevin Costner

And I thought the western was dead wood.

Open Range, the fourth film and the second western Kevin Costner has directed, harps back to the golden age of this genre and stands out as a remarkably robust and thoughtful film. Costner the director is maturing fast and if he has not yet peaked we are in for some good films down the road.

At the heart of the film is a clash of values — non-violence against violence, the slow old ways against grasping modernity, corporatism against individual liberty and a healthy environment, and so on — but the spartan script is never contrived.

Costner is Charley, a civil war veteran and expert killer, who in the ten years since the war has been disciple and friend to aging cattle man Boss, played by Robert Duvall. Boss is for hard work and against violence and in his shadow Charley has tried to learn new instincts.

Herding their cattle across country Boss and his crew come upon a town run by a rancher played by Michael Gambon who is of the new fence-it–all-in breed and who has a violent hatred of Boss’s kind, who exercise their rights to free grazing on ranchers’ lands. Gambon rather than letting the herders pass through, provokes a confrontation and Boss pragmatically puts away his non-violent instincts and lets Costner off the leash.

The wills of the antagonists clash, a classic showdown is brewing. At no point is violence glorified or seen as the better option.

The violence when it comes at the film’s climax is unsparing and unpleasant, and in a nice touch, rather than standing round and gawping as in most westerns, the town’s inhabitant’s all head for the hills: they know gun play ain’t fun.

Although Charley is the man of action, Costner gives the centre of the film to Duvall who rises to the occasion with a deftly understated performance.

A thoughtful and compelling film that shows the upstarts in the newer genres what script and filmmaking and acting are all about.

Review by Chris Page

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