Runtime: 139 Mins
What To Expect: Costner at his best
There haven’t been that many great westerns since Unforgiven in 1992. That’s probably because it set the bar so high that few have had the balls to follow up on it. A few worked. There was Wyatt Earp, possible a bit too sentimental to enter outright ‘classic’ territory. Or Tombstone, a supremely manly movie that was a bit too Hollywood to compete with Unforgiven. Here, Open Range successfully takes the best of both of those movies and blends them into one manly masterpiece. It’s not quite on the level of Unforgiven, but it’s damned close. Aesthetically its right there, although Unforgiven is just plain meaner. Most surprisingly, this thing was directed by Costner.
This thing is masterfully paced. The whole movie is set up to serve a blazing shootout, anything that happens in the first 115 minutes serves that end. Not one person is killed before it, the movie is that confident in its buildup. It’s about men who are pushed too far. When someone threatens your livelihood a man must act, when their friend is murdered, Costner and Duvall prepare to throwdown. Duvall is the wise leader, but its Costners character that is built best. Costner is the former soldier, and killing is as easy as breathin’, in the past at least. As a film-maker Costner also seems to have learned. His character only speaks when necessary, there are no cheeseball speeches. The fucker is stern, cool and convincing. He does us all a favour and keeps the romantic subplot to a minimum. Well done.
The film drives towards a lengthy gun battle. It actually shouldn’t be called the final shootout, as its the first and last. But it delivers and is the best part of an already brilliant show. The bad guys hire a professional gun slinger for the occasion. “Are you the one who killed my friend?” Costner casually asks. “That’s right, I shot the boy too and I enjoyed it”. To which Costner responds by shooting him dead between the eye. It’s a different way of kicking off an epic gun battle, by killing the guy you expect to die last first. The action in this battle is expertly staged. That must mean Costner is an expert, because every gunshot – and there are a lot – feels heavy, intimidating and eventful. Almost like the shootout from Heat, but in the old West. It’s that good.
It took him a while, but Costner made a damned good movie. His best role as actor and director. He won’t top this.