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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Open Range
Open Range
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // R // January 20, 2003
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 23, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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The Movie:
"Cows is one thing, but one man telling another man where he can go in this country is something else."

With an older adult audience having taken in "Seabiscuit" last Summer and not finding much else, Kevin Costner's late Summer western "Open Range" managed to be an unlikely hit, as audiences saddled up and headed to the cinema to the tune of $58m, doubling the picture's minimal $26m budget. Costner (who also directed) talked about how tough it was to rustle up any financing for the Western, a genre that hasn't exactly seen its share of recent successes, aside from Costner's "Wolves", "Tombstone" and "Unforgiven".

While this isn't on the level of "Dances With Wolves", "Open Range" still offers some mild entertainment, as it remains a well-acted, confidently directed motion picture that looks pretty extraordinary for a film that only was made for $26m, which seems minor these days. Costner stars as Charley Waite, a cattleman who has ridden with Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) for years, with the older gentleman serving as something of a mentor for Charley. The two have recently taken on assistants: Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and the orphan Button (Diego Luna).

The cattlemen send Mose into a local town on an errand, but are worried when he doesn't return. They arrive in town only to find Mose in jail and Baxter (Michael Gambon), a sheriff who harbors a strong dislike of open range cattlemen, awaiting. Mose needs a doctor and they find one in Doc Barlow (Dean McDermott), while Charley finds a love interest in the doctor's sister, Sue Barlow (Annette Bening). Although Baxter allowed the group to leave once, he doesn't intend on leaving the matter settled - joined with marshal Poole (James Russo), the two round up a group to finish off Boss and his men. Things don't go as planned: while Boss and Charley are away, Mose is killed and Button is severely injured. The two have a difficult decision and eventually decide to go back into the town to seek medical help for Button and try to plan their next move.

While not without some imperfections (the film is a good 15 minutes too long), I found this to be a very enjoyable effort. Costner and Duvall not only provide superior performances, but are really terrific together. I was drawn into the story of these characters almost immediately. Duvall, in particular, offers an award-worthy performance. Bening, Luna, Benrubi and the late Michael Jeter provide good support, while Gambon provides a geuninely intimidating villian. The whole romantic angle between Bening and Costner is nicely acted by both, but I'm not sure the film ever convinced that the romantic angle was an entirely necessary addition to the story.

Based upon "The Open Range Men" by Lauran Paine and adapted by Craig Storper, the picture doesn't really bring anything terribly new to the table in terms of the genre, but it provides subtle shadings to characters and turns a basic tale of revenge into a tense and compelling picture. The film is an example of a picture that appears to have cost twice as much as it did. James Muro's cinematography is visually stunning, while the film's production and costume design is excellent. The late Michael Kamen's score is also very enjoyable.

So it goes along for a little while longer than it should have. Seems like a fairly minor issue when everything else works so well. Costner and Duvall are fantastic together and the movie somehow takes a great deal of the old fashioned cliches from the genre and makes it all superbly entertaining. I liked this film a lot.


VIDEO: "Open Range" is presented by Buena Vista in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is simply a delightful presentation from the studio. While it's not perfect, it's still an awfully good effort that does justice to the film's strong visuals. Sharpness and detail are very good, if not remarkable. Yet, the film's cinematography may have had a slight intentional softness.

The picture showed little in the way of faults. I noticed a couple of very minor compression artifacts in a couple of scenes, but it was a pleasure to see that the presentation didn't suffer from any edge enhancement. Light, film-like grain was visible at times, but was so soft and slight that it actually added to the look of the film.

Colors remained vivid and well-saturated, with no smearing or other faults. Black level also remained solid, and flesh tones looked accurate.

SOUND: "Open Range" is presented by Buena Vista in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. The film's soundtrack is an excellent example of fine sound design and recording. While maybe not one of the more aggressive soundtracks in recent memory, the soundtrack remains carefully layered, with a great deal of enjoyable ambience. Surrounds kick in fairly often for both light environemental sounds, occasional sound effects and there's also several wonderfully convincing rolls of thunder throughout the listening space.

Audio quality is impressive, as the soundtrack is exceptionally dynamic. Sound effects never sound compressed - gunshots in the final battle sound especially fierce. Dialogue remains crisp and clear throughout, while bass is generally powerful, yet not over-the-top.


Commentary: Director/star Kevin Costner provides an intelligent, enjoyable commentary for the entire film. Costner is enthusiastic and insightful with his discussion, really going through many aspects of the production process, from the difficulty of financing to trying to maintain accuracy down to small details that are not called attention to otherwise in the film. Difficult enough working on a small budget, Costner also filmed in remote locations that were difficult to get to. The director/actor also talks about casting, themes in the film and technical issues such as production design, location shooting and cinematography.

Beyond Open Range: This is a fantastic 65-minute documentary - narrated by Costner - that focuses on the struggles of making this film. Costner is exceptionally honest about problems with the financing and working with people whose money may not be secure. There's no distributor in place when things begin and Costner talks frankly about the weight he feels of the kind of gamble he's taken. The first struggle is finding locations, which required going up in a helicopter over rugged landscape that was snow-covered and not supposed to be. Costner takes the viewer through the visualization process, as he shows a rather puzzled-looking Annette Bening around a miniature version of the film's town.

The documentary allows the viewer access to many of the behind-the-scenes events and discussions, such as location scouting, production meetings and building. We learn exactly what things cost and who on the crew is responsible for what aspect of the production. There are also some interesting views of some of the main scenes, such as how the crew managed to build the flood - with 32,000 gallons of water per minute flooding through the scene through an amazing system. Watching the documentary gave me a new level of respect for Costner, who displays an extraordinary degree of passion in both the documentary and his discussion in the narration. We see him trying to rally the crew, acting out scenes and in the midst of the cold, rough conditions with the rest of the crew - even working through what became severe appendix problems.

Occasional interviews are edited in during this documentary but largely, this is simply a beautifully filmed, very well-edited piece that is one of the finest DVD "making of" documentaries that I've seen in a long while.

We also get a documentary on the storyboarding process, complete with storyboard-to-scene comparisons and some discussions about visual effects work, as well as 30 minutes worth of deleted scenes, with on-screen intros from Kevin Costner optionally edited into the reel of footage (just the footage runs about 24 minutes. Rounding out the DVD is a 12-minute documentary about the history of the Open Range, narrated by Kevin Costner and music video.

Final Thoughts: Costner and Duvall are terrific - Duvall especially should be considered for at least an Oscar nomination for his role. "Open Range" may be nothing new, but it treads over old ground with skill and confidence. Buena Vista's DVD edition provides good audio/video quality and superb supplements. A definite recommendation.

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