Academy-Award winners KEVIN COSTNER and ROBERT DUVALL star as Charlie Waite and Boss Spearman who, with their colleagues Mose and Button, are cowboys driving cattle on the Open Range, free-grazing outside of the law.
When Mose ends up badly beaten and arrested on trumped-up charges at a town where he has gone for supplies, Boss and Charlie discover a web of corruption centred around ruthless rancher, Denton Baxter (played with relish delight by MICHAEL GAMDON). Having built up the community, Baxter hates all drifters and free-grazers who enter his domain but is not averse to killing them and "acquiring" their cattle for his own. With Sheriff Poole (JAMES RUSSO) and gunman Butler (KIM COATES) on the payroll, Baxter begins a course of action which will lead to violence and death to the quiet streets of Harmonville.
Superbly directed by KOSTNER with great attention to authentic detail, OPEN RANGE is another of the modern wave of gritty and realistic Westerns which have emerged in recent years. He successfully avoids some of the clichés common with the genre.
For example, heavy rain turns the Harmonville streets into quagmires (unusual for a genre which usually depicts dusty roads) and the climactic gunfight between the free-grazers and Baxter's posse is certainly one of the best yet filmed. Here are no stereotypical quick-draw, deadly aimed encounters which are over in mere seconds. Instead we see a tense, brutal street battle, a running melee of cat-and-mouse throughout the town which also superbly illustrates the inaccurate nature of Old West weaponry.
The film explores in great detail the bond between Boss and Charlie, men who have shunned their pasts for a legitimate way of life despite trouble never being far away. Both are handy with the gun and expert trackers, both wish to one day settle down but harbour deep secrets - even from each other. They are at first unperturbed by Baxter's threats, believing they have a right to graze their herd, but things become personal and they begin a deadly mission of revenge against the landowner. Sympathy comes from local residents Percy (MICHAEL JETER) and Sue Barlow (a radiant ANNETTE BENNING), who in their own way help the duo in their deadly fight against town corruption.
DVD Extras include a KEVIN COSTNER audio-commentary, music video montage, storyboards, twelve deleted scenes and a thirteen minute feature on America's real Open Range.
The imagery in this film is stunning with vast, sweeping landscapes which nicely contrast with the enclosed streets of Harmonville while the fore-mentioned gunfight is exciting and ably directed by KOSTNER. All the cast do well in their roles but I would have liked to have seen more of COATES, whose character Butler receives only a few minutes of screen time.
Fans of the genre will not be disappointed and I am sure that even viewers who normally do not watch films of the Old West will find much to enjoy, too!