Review of Open Range (2003)

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In the mood for a western? Give Open Range a try.

It’s the story of two cowboys named Boss (Robert Duvall) and Charley (Kevin Costner). These cattlemen are traveling across the American West minding their own business when they are unintentionally caught up in a bitter feud with a town sheriff and land baron.

The film opens with a stunning shot of the prairie and depicts the solitary, hard-working life of these nomadic cowboys. They are removed from the townspeople, many of whom don’t take kindly to “free grazers” who allow their cattle to roam on their lands. The cattlemen do their best to avoid a quarrel, but when these townspeople brutally kill one of their friends, they decide to fight back. Can these outsiders convince the townspeople to back them up or will fear and prejudice force them to stand up to these corrupt lawmen alone?

I enjoyed this movie more than I thought I would. Everything from the cinematography to the costumes transports you into its western setting. The suspense is subtle and builds slowly throughout the film. Just when you think one of the characters is going to walk into an ambush or start a fight, all of a sudden he backs away. The quintessential shootout does not happen until very late in the movie, which is just one of the characteristics that makes Open Range more of a character story than an action-adventure flick.

While Boss does his best to avoid conflict, Charley is no stranger to violence. Secretly, they both yearn to settle down and have a family, but their traumatic pasts have led them to pull away from intimate relationships. When they meet a charming doctor’s wife (played by Annette Bening), Charley doesn’t know how to handle his feelings towards her. He is a hard man, afraid of gentility and love. Slowly, throughout the movie, he fights to tear down these walls he’s put up around him. It’s not an easy process, but a necessary one if he hopes to experience any happiness in his life. We get a sense from watching this movie that neither man has experienced much joy recently. As much as the open range is beautiful and peaceful, for them it’s an escape. Can they find a balance between solitude and human interaction? This is just one of the questions that the plot forces upon these men.

If you enjoy thoughtful dramas, classic westerns, or romance, then this is the movie for you.

Available to check out now from the Gabriele Library.

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