BluRay/DVD Reviews

OPEN RANGE

By • Jan 20th, 2004 •

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(Touchstone Home Entertainment) 2003. Running time: 139 mins. Rated ‘R’. Widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio) formatted for 16X9 monitor screens.

I’d like to start with the second disc, which features a ‘making of’ doc and deleted scenes. Costner is a complex fellow. What he shows us of his self is compelling because the film represented a new beginning for him. How long ago was it that the studios bankrolled him in films as acromegalically malformed financially as WATERWORLD or THE POSTMAN? Not that long ago. And now, reduced to operating as an indie filmmaker, he launches into the doc by railing against a potential backer who may prove to be bogus. It’s a strong moment, and it catches our attention, not only because of his dismay at having to deal with such dubious types, but because this is a twenty-five million dollar film for which he’s clearly using some of his own cash, and if a studio had gotten behind it, it would have been twice the budget, if not more. He’s back on our side of the game, watching the spending, fretting about the weather, and eventually even racing his appendix to finish the film before it bursts on him. For a ‘making of’ doc, it’s got some real tension going.

The deleted scenes may have added more characterization to a film already heavily laden with it, and certainly nothing extra was needed for Costner and Robert Duvall, whose characters are amply drawn. But their two younger sidekicks are never brought to a level of sympathy sufficiently to immerse us in the resolve and bloodbath the two older men engage in during the second and third acts. A few more frames establishing their sweet sides might have helped.

OPEN RANGE is a gorgeous, languorous film which nimbly eschews most of the clichés of the genre without showing a moment’s disdain for it. The consciously measured pacing, that of a two-centuries-old reconstructed world, is one of the film’s great virtues.

Costner-the-director keeps Costner-the-actor subservient to Duvall’s honey-crusted elder for two long acts, then comes frighteningly to the forefront as a merciless reinstatement of the violence that his character once was, long before Duvall met him. At this point, in act three, Duvall becomes as wary and deferential towards him as their opponents should be, though by then it’s too late for these arrogant land barons. It’s a fascinating structural aberration. I’m trying to remember where I’ve seen something like it before, and nothing comes immediately to mind. Eastwood’s character in UNFORGIVEN; not really. We knew what he was capable of once upon a time, and sensed it still percolating in him. Costner gives us no hint of the demons that are about to be unleashed.

Two key members of the OPEN RANGE ensemble died after completing the film. Michael Jeter, who Costner used in WATERWORLD, and whose jittery antics have usually made my skin crawl, does well here in a less hyper performance. Michael Kamen, whose score, performed in Prague, summons both the scope and intimacy of the production, but never achieves a signature, borrows from sources as diverse (I’m sure not intentionally) as Chaplin’s 1970 score for THE CIRCUS.

DP James Muro’s camera loves everything about the film. (Jimmy’s a former student and current friend of mine, but my praise is anything but nepotistic) The lush sward, greens running along the blue of the sky, defines some of the best cinematography of the past year. Faces and costumes are also served up by a loving lens: Annette Bening is the ultimate prairie-handsome woman, a hopeless dream object for every cowpoke that catches sight of her. She even makes Costner’s character babble painfully after the denouement, a narrative choice that wounds the film. The loner type he embodies should speak economically, if at all, and the screenwriters failed to find a way for him to bare his soul with half the verbiage. Having seen the film in its theatrical run, I kept hoping the DVD would provide a further director’s cut, judiciously trimming the coda, but my hopes were not rewarded.

Problems like that acknowledged, there’s just too much poetry in the script and in the frames to be put off by this visually intoxicating film. It’s worth owning and revisiting, a sincere and meticulously constructed ode to those times, by people who probably wish they were there, in a gritty, romantic past, more than in these unpleasant, studio-driven days. Certainly Costner seems to: he spends much of the commentary track recounting the historical past for us, and does so with the love of someone longing for a time machine to transport them to more spiritually familiar turf.


Special Feeatures:
Two discs. Audio Commentary with Kevin Costner. Deleted scenes with optional commentary by Costner. “Making of” doc. Doc on the open range of the 1800s, narrated by Costner.

Cast:
Directed by Kevin Costner
Production Design by Gae Buckley
Director of Photography James Muro
Produced by David Valdes, Kevin Costner, Jake Eberts
Screenplay by Craig Storper
Score by Michael Kamen

With Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, Michael Gambon, Michael Jeter, James Russo.

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