4 March 2004 | jethelred
(This is my first written review, so bear with me)
I've seen many of Kevin Costner's movies (both acting and directing), and even more westerns, and I'd have to say that this movie is the best in either category. I've always thought Costner a sub-par actor, but I couldn't imagine anyone else playing the role of Charlie. He had it down.
The rest of the cast was superb as well. Luna (Button) and Benrubi (Mose) are both destined for greatness. Gambon (Baxter) and Duval (Boss) have been around long enough to do things right. Bening (Sue) is a better (and better-looking) actress than ever before. The supporting cast, and the characters they create, all flowed together so strongly and believably that I would've watched a movie about a week in the life of the town before Mose showed up that fateful day. The shopkeeper and Percy (Jeter) particularly shined, but every single citizen of that town gave the impression they had a story to tell. But I digress, because cast and characters alone do not a movie make.
The dialog in many movies today is too geared to what the audience needs to hear. Rather than a fly-on-the-wall point of view on a realistic event, we normally get verbose exposition and other generally out-of-character dialog, so that the less intuitive viewer doesn't get left behind. In "Open Range", we're given a story. Four men and the task they must accomplish, with only the words any four men in a similar situation would say to each other. There wasn't anything directed to our tutelage alone, simply a bare-bones character drama. It felt real, like I could have been right there in the midst of things. That is the way movies SHOULD be. I applaud the creative minds behind this, and Costner, the ringmaster, above all others.
I have not seen another film that captured the beauty of the title character (the open range, nyuk nyuk) in such a light. While I'm sure that at least some of the footage was shot in a studio, and picturesque backdrops appeared to be inserted in the terrain at some points, the believability that this was 1880's "Old West" was always there. From the wide open skies and rolling hills to the pebbled creeks and fresh-built townscapes, I was thoroughly impressed.
The set/art direction weren't the only elements that capitalized on this beauty. Often, the camera operator (and undoubtedly Costner himself) had found amazing camera angles/motion to accentuate the finer elements of the sets. One such picturesque moment came in the form of an establishing shot of the cool, clear pebbled creek, shot from just inches above the surface, as the horses drank the purity of nature itself. Another shot shows the hills/mountains with lightning crashing around them as a storm billows its way to town. Was this an effects shot or not? I don't rightly know, and I was too impressed to care. The movie is beautiful.
There is also a beautifully mastered scene in which Charlie awakes from an unsettling dream and at first doesn't know the dream from reality. The use of camera motion and picture superimposition here isn't so over-the-top that it feels out of place in the rest of the "artistic" film. It's hard for someone to accomplish that.
All technical terms aside, this film was born from talent. The writers, actors, and most importantly the director knew how to make a film enjoyable. When a movie just plain works, it's because the producers have assembled a group of personalities that work well together. This movie obviously had that. I'm very much looking forward to whatever it is that Costner decides to bring us next. I have been shown the light.
9 out of 10, "classic"