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Gus is back!,
This review is from: Open Range [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
For those viewers who fondly remember, and miss, Robert Duvall's role as Augustus McCrae in the 1989 TV miniseries LONESOME DOVE, take heart. Duvall is back in the saddle again as "Boss" Spearman in OPEN RANGE. It's been way too long.
The lead role in this western actually belongs to Kevin Costner, who plays Spearman's trail partner and employee, Charlie Waite. Boss is a cattleman that practices free-range grazing, i.e. driving his herd from place to place, only staying long enough for the animals to deplete the available food supply. But it's 1882, ranchers are beginning to fence in the West, and freegrazers are an endangered species. So, its no surprise when Charlie and Boss are ordered to take their beeves and get out of Dodge, so to speak, by big time rancher Baxter (Michael Gambon), who also owns the local town and its sheriff. Waite and Spearman are soon backed into a corner when the latter's two other hired hands, Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and Button (Diego Luna), run seriously afoul of Baxter's thugs.
It would be hard to choose between the better performance - Costner or Duvall - both playing characters so strong, self-reliant and silent that neither knows the other's full name. And they've been riding the West together for ten years! Nor does Boss know Charlie's violent history, which included being a Civil War raider, and then a hired gun much like the ones now working for Baxter. When Charlie falls in love with Sue (Annette Bening), the spinster sister of the local sawbones, his guilt over his rough-edged past is a self-imposed handicap that Sue, who sees Waite's inner goodness, must overcome.
Moviegoers accustomed to a steady diet of mindless, FX-laden action thrillers may find the first three-quarters of OPEN RANGE slow going. It's called "character and plot development", an intelligent change of pace. And when the final shoot-out comes, it's perhaps the best ever filmed. While most such western confrontations seem like a choreographed ballet, this one shows them for what they were: relatively short, extremely violent, chaotic, and lacking in fancy gunplay and sharpshooting finesse.
Big Screen westerns are such a rarity nowadays that it's hard to compare this one with any other in recent memory. Though perhaps not as memorable as DANCES WITH WOLVES, this Old West morality play is certainly the best since UNFORGIVEN. Admittedly, we've seen similar plots before: the small homesteader/Big Ranching feud in the classic SHANE, and Big Mining vs. the small prospector in PALE RIDER, Clint Eastwood's transparent re-scripting of the former. However, the acting, cinematography and costuming of OPEN RANGE are excellent. Duvall surely deserved a Best Supporting Actor nomination, and the production as a whole merited a Best Picture nod. My only complaint lies with the editing, which left in one too many leave-takings between Charlie and Sue, the last being completely superfluous. That said, however, this is a five-star tribute to loyalty, rugged individualism, integrity, and simply doing what's right. I think, sometimes, that Hollywood has forgotten what those qualities are all about.