Open Range found Kevin Costner confidently in John Ford/John Wayne territory. This is a lovely throwback to old-school westerns, the sort of film that has a noble love story at its center, and is peppered with violent confrontation and surly character actors doing their gruff best. Robert Duvall, Annette Benning, and a vicious Michael Gambon all did fantastic supporting work, with Costner the firm and strong center to this tale of open range cattleman (Costner and Duvall) who go up against a greedy and deadly Irish land baron (Gambon) intent on total domination of the area. Benning is the woman who Costner falls in love with, and the deft screenplay by Craig Storper (from an original story by prolific novelist Lauran Paine) had the perfect balance of drama, romance, and bloody action, with the final 20 minutes containing an absolutely ear shattering and ferociously staged gun battle, with all sorts of bodies getting torn up in Peckinpah-esque fashion, with bullets whizzing by and overhead, splintering the wooden buildings with killer intent. Cinematographer J. Michael Muro, one of the all-time great steadicam operators, was able to touch upon classical and iconic imagery with his gorgeously composed widescreen photography, but never surrendered to any sort of slavish imitation of films from the past; there’s still more than a few modern aesthetic touches, especially during the gun battles, that make this film zip and pop around the edges. But at its heart, this is a classical Western filled with themes of honor and promises kept and friendship that knows no bounds. Critically embraced, the film broke the “Westerns are dead” curse back in 2003, becoming a late summer sleeper hit at the box office. The film features a terrifically rousing score by Michael Kamen.



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