Open Range (2003)
Open Range is a beautiful, slow-moving western with all the familiar genre characteristics. Kevin Costner stars and directs, and does it with a peculiar lack of appetite for stretch. The slow presentation, typical characterizations and clichéd romance lay the foundation for an oddly unambitious film from a creative point of view. The result is a movie which takes some time to reveal itself as what it is: a sturdy and engaging piece of craftsmanship. There's little new under the sun, but with the right tools Costner is able to bring us what the studios greatly profited from during Hollywood's Golden Age.
One of the main instruments of the classic western was typecasting. Now, Robert Duvall has had an as diverse and versatile career as any, but in Open Range, Kevin Costner deploys him most shamelessly in a role the veteran can do with a blindfold. What's remarkable is that, after the initial period in which you may ask yourself how Robert Duvall can possibly offer any novelty to the role of seasoned and just, but tough cowboy in his umpteenth outing, he just grows into the part as naturally and engagingly as a grandfather would when telling his best story for the hundredth time. Duvall's integrity, honesty and sheer class helps suck us back a hundred plus years and into a conflict which isn't remarkable, but still completely heartfelt and encompassing.
Kevin Costner's directorial style hasn't change much since he made his first film, Dances With Wolves, in 1990. His is a slow and deliberate narration which can be overwhelming when it works or fall completely flat when it doesn't. Both as an actor and a filmmaker, Costner wants to be whatever Clint Eastwood wants to be; the two are interested in the same historical periods of American history and seem to express the same range of emotion in similar types of characters. It wouldn't be fair to say that Open Range is Costner's Unforgiven - it is not that scrutinizing or challenging - but this film does have many of the same strengths as Eastwood's masterpiece, namely that they are films based on the classic western, updated with an increased sense of realism, and underlined with a complete respect for both filmatic and narrative heritage.