Droid defines the Decades best movies – #13 Open Range (2003)

open_range If there is one quintessentially American genre in cinema, it’s the western. But since it’s heyday in the 40’s and 50’s it’s been in a steady decline. I can think of only two in the last decade worth a damn. ‘3:10 to Yuma’ which saw the gimpy morals of Christian Bale contending with the charismatic outlaw Russell Crowe, and ‘Open Range’, Kevin Costners tale about a couple of tough old cattle grazers doing what’s right and stickin’ it to the Irish.

It’s 1882 and Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) is a trail boss to Charlie Waite (Kevin Costner), Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and Button (Diego Luna). Settled on a range while their cattle feed, Mose is sent in to the town of Harmonville to gather supplies. When he doesn’t return, Boss and Charlie follow. They find him in the jailhouse, beaten and bloody. Once Boss, Charlie and Mose have returned to the range, Irish import and local land baron Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon), who detests cattle grazers, sets his hired guns on them, intent on keeping the cattle for himself. Mose is killed and Button is wounded. Boss and Charlie venture back in to town to seek medical help for Button as well as a heavy dose of retribution.

open range 1 I’ll get this cliché out of the way up front. They don’t make them like this anymore. The writing, based upon the novel by Lauran Paine and adapted by Paine and Craig Storper allows the characters to develop slowly. Nothing is overly explained and a lot of what is said is through allusion. These are times before ‘sexting’, whatever the hell that is, or when everything had to be spelled out for someone to understand who you are. At one point, Boss says to Charlie “It paints a pretty picture, don’t it?” and Charlie replies “I hear they’re worth a thousand words.” In the moment it’s an amusing exchange, but it also adequately sums up the characters and the filmmaking. Each character is judged not just by what they say, but more importantly, what they do. They rarely come right out and say what they feel, but instead allude to it. We, as the audience, are never in doubt. The writing respects the audiences intelligence enough to allow them to follow. There is a morality to the characters that is essential to our ability to identify and care about them. They’re good men and women, not without their past, but they do what they believe is right and they act on those beliefs, whatever the consequences.

open range 2 Robert Duvall is absolutely wonderful as Boss. He’s one grizzled old cowboy, and you never once question the respect he gets from Charlie, Mose and Button. Watching him in this role is a reminder what terrific actors he and his generation are, and I wonder if they’re going to be easily replaced. I think not. Costner ably matches Duvall, and plays his character perfectly as the younger man who respects Boss completely, and has his share of bad memories and regrets. Annette Bening makes what could have been a thankless love interest role into something more, and she and Costner create a believable romance between two people that are unsure how to proceed, but know they want to. Gambon as Baxter makes a suitably hateful villian, but it is in this character that the film may be at its weakest. Slightly underwritten, Baxter comes across as a little bit of a caricature. He seems at times to be channelling Alan Rickmans Sheriff of Nottingham in Costners ‘Robin Hood Prince of Thieves’. Nevertheless it’s an entertaining performance, and doesn’t detract from the film too much. It all ends in a shootout, as Westerns invariably do (and must), but it’s a unique and terrific shootout unlike any I can recall. What’s unique about it is that it’s messy. There are no ‘shoot the wings off a fly from 50 yards’ superhuman sharpshooters. Just some that are better, and more experienced than others.

open range 4 Credit goes to Kevin Costner, who couldn’t get this film made, so he sunk a large portion of his own money in to it. Modestly budgeted at around $22m (it was surprisingly successful at the box office), it looks gorgeous. Alberta, Canada stands in for Montana, and the lush green range, the punishing storms and the under construction expansion of the town are beautifully filmed by Costner and cinematographer James Murom. Michael Kamen provides a score that might border on the grandiose at times, but feels right.

open range 5 ‘Open Range’ is not intended to be much more than an entertainment. A throwback to films about men that were men. Men who rode horses, slept under the stars, were handy with a gun, drank whisky and smoked cigars, treated women and each other with respect and always did what was right according to their moral code. And it delivers a thoroughly entertaining, and always involving film that reminds us that ‘they don’t make them like this anymore’.

The list so far…

#14 – The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

#15 – Bad Santa (2003)

#16 – The Hurt Locker (2009)

#17 – Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

#18 – Kingdom of Heaven (2005) Directors Cut

#19 – High Fidelity (2000)

#20 – Friday Night Lights (2004)

#21 – Frequency (2000)


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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

33 responses to “Droid defines the Decades best movies – #13 Open Range (2003)”

  1. Tom_Bando says :

    I really liked this one. I wish Costner would make more like it. It’s ‘My Darling Clementine’ w/ Fonda more or less all over, but so? taking a formula and making it work is Much harder than it looks. (See Postman for more info….)

    Good, surprising inclusion here! Nice write up, too. I have found Gambon to be a highly enjoyable baddie in most things he’s appeared in.

    • Droid says :

      I haven’t seen My Darling Clementine, but I’ll be sure to check it out.

      I also wish Costner would make more flicks like this. He’s perfectly suited to this kind of role.

  2. Droid says :

    I give myself credit for getting the term “sexting” into a review of a western flick.

    *pats myself on the back*

    • Tom_Bando says :

      It gets 4 hooves up on the Almada scale, certainly.

      My Darling Clementine-standard Ford Western, really good baddie work by Walter Brennan, Fonda and Bond are their usual selves, Linda Darnell is a beaut. It’s well worth your time.

      • Continentalop says :

        My Darling Clementine is a great film. But if I was going to compare this to a past western, it would be Shane or The Westerner. The old “Stranger comes to town and rights all the wrongs” is one of the quintessential western plots.

      • Tom_Bando says :

        It makes me think of Clementine more than Shane, though certainly that has similar themes and plotline, etc.

        Elisha Cook Jr. facedown in the street. Yup that’s quite a scene. Well okay he’s blasted and sent flying backwards, but you know what I meant.

  3. Continentalop says :

    And Droid you forgot mention the other great Western of the last decade: Brokeback Mountain.

  4. xiphos0311 says :

    Each character is judged not just by what they say, but more importantly, what they do.

    It’s to bad everybody today believes in words over action. The world would be a better place if the slavishly blind obedience to oratory was replaced by judging our fellow humans not on what they say but by the quality of their actions.

    Even though it was a TV show shouldn’t Deadwood count as a great western of the past decade?

  5. MORBIUS says :

    Great Movie, well acted, beautifully shot (heh).

    Costner turned down ( Kill Bill) to do Open Range.

    What, no mention of Space Cowboys!

    Nice read Droid, well done.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Costner made a good choice because Open Range is an infinitely better movie. Kill Bill is awful which is par for the course for Cokey Mcfrankenstein Head.

      • Jarv says :

        Which reminds me, Xi,

        Your open letter to the coke-addled foot fetishist was the funniest thing I read in yonks.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Thank you, thank you very much*

        *sent via my best impersonation of The King.

      • Tom_Bando says :

        Cokey supposedly has talked about doing a Western, but you gotta know it would be a fiasco. One of those let’s rip off Sergio Leone 80% of the way thru and then John Ford/Howard Hawks the rest.

        Cokey–here’s an idea. Do a Streets of San Francisco remake and pay Mikey Douglas as much $ it takes to get him to star. You might actually have something. No CGI Karl Maldon won’t work. Try Abe Vigoda.

  6. jarv says :

    Never even heard of this. I shall list it immediately

    Kill bill- I presume he was meant to be bill?

    It is utter shit

  7. Droid says :

    At this rate I’ll finish in time to start next decades list.

  8. Droid says :

    Funny. I also heard QT wanted Beatty as Bill.

  9. koutchboom says :

    WOW. Ok this is a big surprise. The man from down under has a soft spot for good westerns.

    I was dragged to see this, didn’t want to looked boring and Conster hadn’t done anything good in a while. But I’d dragged my buddy to enough shit that I owed him one. Saw it in the like fucking shittiest old timely theater I’d ever been to, I almost want to say that the seats were wooden.

    I enjoyed it though, the shot out at the end was great. I just didn’t like the inclusion of the second most famous mexican actor and the dude from Parker Lewis Can’t Lose for really no good reason. May check this out again still.

  10. Chipps says :

    havn’t seen this one, will have to give it a try, it sounds awesome. I like the idea of cowboys (its not a war movie, these arn’t professional soldiers) blasting away at each, occasionally getting each other in the guts. (off topic) I read the other day that the 101st airborne got dropped in france with 170 rounds as their front line ammo. think of that next time you watch a movie about wwii.

    one thing that REALLY shits me is unnecessary lack of continually. In the 1880s the phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ was not used in english. it probably comes from a chinese proverb and was first used in english in the late 1920s. that kinda stuff really shits me. It reminds me of an otherwise ok movie about washington crossing the delaware staring jeff bridges (cant remember the name). in it he wishes someone a ‘merry christmas’, dispite the fact that the phrase was coined in ‘a christmas carrol’ by charles dickens roughtly FIFTY YEARS LATER. BALLS! BALLS I SAY! IT’S COMMON KNOWLEDGE! it just gets my goat, that’s all.

    • Tom_Bando says :

      Yeah, those shots of Orson Welles playing his Atari in ‘Othello’ always kinda take you outta the picture, if you think about it-

      • Chipps says :

        havn’t seen that one. but seriously, it is extremely common for hollywood to get technology and sayings out of context. even just regular lack of continuity dosn’t bother me too much (i’m telling you, mr white smokes an unlit cigarette in resiovor dogs) but it is when lack of continuity is WRITTEN INTO THE SCRIPT that it really shits me. another big one – stirups being used before their invention! sometimes it is for fair enough reasons (before cgi but after a long time had elapsed from the war the exact models of some tanks and planes no longer existed. i can get that that is fair enough) but honestly, some of the things that you see just make you yell at your tv. side note – michael caine begain his career as a military advisor on films

      • koutchboom says :

        How about when technology changed drastically and the people don’t age a day? Marley and Me.

      • Chipps says :

        or nicholas cage in ‘lord of war’ otherwise a good movie

    • herrmilflover says :

      Yeah those kinds of anachronisms can be distracting.
      It always annoyed me that The Flintstones had Christmas episodes, yet they clearly lived a few thousand if not million years before Jesus was born, let alone Chrismas was created.

    • Droid says :

      That’s far too nitpicky for me, Chipps. I won’t watch a movie and analyse the origins of a phrase that is used. It’s a nice moment in the film, and I don’t care that it was coined 40 years later by some advertising bloke.

  11. just pillow talk says :

    I think this is a great movie. I love it when they are in the store right before the final showdown, and he’s picking out dishes or whatever the fuck it was, and the chocolate and cigars.

    Costner is very good in this. Fuck Kill Bill. This blows the fucker outta the water.

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