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Open Range

#299 - Open Range
Kevin Costner, 2003

A former lawman turned cattle rancher has the simple cattle-driving operation he's involved in be threatened by a corrupt land baron and his cronies.

People have been calling Westerns a more or less defunct genre for the past few decades, even though there are a few films scattered here and there that manage to win critical and/or commercial acclaim, even those that may not quite qualify due to abandoning the film's Wild West setting for either a different location or era or both. Open Range is a pretty unapologetic throwback to classic Wild West films, which is perhaps a bit unsurprising considering that is directed by and starring none other than Kevin Costner. As a result, Open Range doesn't exactly do anything too original or particularly in-depth when it comes to developing its characters and plot - Costner plays one of a group of honest cattle ranchers (led by Robert Duvall, who is good as always) who are drawn to a small frontier town that is effectively ruled by Michael Gambon's callous land baron and the various henchmen under his employ. Events conspire to strand Costner and Duvall in town and ratchet up the tension between them and Gambon, inevitably culminating in a climatic shoot-out. Also, there is a romantic sub-plot involving Costner and a doctor's assistant (Annette Bening), because of course there is.

What Open Range does well is take a basic but dependable Western narrative and give it a polish with 21st-century filmmaking. It does feel an awful lot like a film taking a while to build up to its climax, filling out its town with a fairly standard bunch of characters while giving both Costner and Duvall complicated back-stories so as to give their white-hat characters some depth (the black-hats are afforded no such complexity, of course). It's reasonably well-shot and has a serviceable background score, plus it's worth the build-up just to get to the third act, which does feature some solid Western action. While it's too uneven to be truly great, it's definitely worth a viewing if you want a good Western.