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Open Range Movie Poster

Year: 2003
Director: Kevin Costner

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Cast:

Robert Duvall (Boss Spearman), Kevin Costner (Charley Waite), Annette Bening (Sue Barlow), Michael Gambon (Denton Baxter), Michael Jeter (Percy), Diego Luna (Button), James Russo (Sheriff Poole), Abraham Benrubi (Mose), Dean McDermott (Doc Barlow), Kim Coates (Butler), Herb Kohler (Cafe Man), Peter MacNeill (Mack), Cliff Saunders (Ralph), Patricia Stutz (Ralph's Wife (as Pat Stutz)), Julian Richings (Wylie), Ian Tracey (Tom), Rod Wilson (Gus), Diego Diablo Del Mar (Ballester (as Diego Del Mar)), Patricia Benedict (Cafe Woman), Tim Koetting (Bartender Bill)

Storyline:

Boss Spearman, Charley Waite, Mose Harrison and Button freegraze their cattle across the vast prairies of the West, sharing a friendship forged by a steadfast code of honor and living a life unencumbered by civilization. When their wayward herd forces them near the small town of Harmonville, the cowboys encounter a corrupt sheriff and kingpin rancher who govern the territory through fear, tyranny and violence. Boss and Charley find themselves inextricably drawn towards an inevitable showdown, as they are forced to defend the freedom and values of a lifestyle that is all too quickly vanishing. Amidst the turmoil, life suddenly takes an unexpected turn for the loner Charley when he meets the beautiful and warm spirited Sue Barlow, a woman who embraces both his heart and his soul.

Reviews:

They don't westerns that much anymore, at least on the big screen. People in the Baby Boomer generation grew up with them on television. Western films were big at the box office in several decades, too.

Well, at least Kevin Costner must have a heart for the genre as he been involved with several major western productions in the last 15 years, this the latest.

The best thing I can say about this film right out front is that it may be the best western I've ever watched. I can't give it higher praise than that! Since I've seen so many, for so long, it's especially high praise.

I make this bold statement because of the following:

1 - Fantastic scenery and beautiful cinematography. If it looks spectacular on my 24-inch flat-screen, I can't imagine how awesome it would be a big plasma set.

2 - Characters you really care about, led by three actors who almost always give solid performances: Robert Duvall (the best in here), Costner and Annette Bening. Duvall, by the way, gives one of the best short "speeches" I've ever witnessed in a movie. It was nice to see Bening actually play a wholesome woman for a change. The two men who are out on the range with Duvall and Costner also were excellent.

3 - Just the right amount of action. When the action does occur, such as gunfire, the sound is incredible. This might be one of the best movies, audibly-speaking, I've ever heard, which is another reason for ranking it Number One. There are no lulls but not a ton of action, either.

4 - Just the right amount of romance. It doesn't get sappy, it doesn't overshadow the basic story, but it adds a nice, soft touch to what could be a very rough and unpleasant tale. And, in a different twist, it's the romance, not the usual climactic gun battle, that ends this film.

I can't say enough about this movie except that I'm sorry more westerns like it aren't made today.

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Costner's third film as a director, his fourth if you include his work with Kevin Reynolds on Waterworld (1995), is another Western. One says 'another', but upon reflection it is obvious that it's a genre that, creatively, he's hardly left. After the highly successful Dances With Wolves (1990) he directed with Kevin Reynolds - albeit in uncredited fashion - the critically mauled The Postman (1997). The latter was nothing less than a reworking of the familiar Pony Express story, and for good measure threw in explicit references to John Ford along the way. Waterworld's ocean setting did nothing to disguise the fact that that was a film that owed another massive debt to the great American genre: sea fort, lone riders, wide-open watery frontier and all. Costner also did sterling work as Wyatt Earp in Kasdan's 1994 film of the same name - a substantial project, and one close enough in manner to his own to suggest more than a passing creative influence from its star.

In Open Range, Costner again has the lead: as Charley Waite, former gunfighter, now sharing ownership of a free grazing cattle drive. Together with Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall), and two others they reach Harmonville where they soon encounter a corrupt town Marshal (James Russo) and rancher (an excellent Michael Gambon) who threaten their way of life. They also discover others who prove sympathetic to their cause, like the sister of the town's doctor Sue Barlow (Annette Bening). There's growing suspense as an inevitable showdown looms ("Men are gonna get killed here today, Sue, and I'm gonna kill 'em...") Waite's personal life, and his romance gradually comes to the fore until its crisis, as well as the combat, mark the end of the film.

On screen Costner shares equal honours with the septuagenarian Robert Duvall, whose personal philosophy that "Man's got a right to protect his property and his life, and we ain't gonna let no rancher or his lawman take either," informs much of the main action. Crusty and fearsome, Spearman's dauntless words recall those of John Wayne's J.B. Books in The Shootist (1976) who expressed broadly similar sentiments: "I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid a-hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them." In either case its an old man speaking, one fiercely independent after a life of hardship and who won't be trifled with. Open Range takes its main impetus from exactly that sort of unwelcome interference, and resembles Eastwood's Unforgiven in that a good deal of the narrative consists of a determined settling of accounts, an unrelieved search for moral recompense outside the law after an initial trespass against the innocent. What is started almost casually is finished deliberately and by the authority given the wronged: "Ours ain't writ by no tin star, bought and paid for, Marshall. It's writ by us, and we aim to enforce it," says Boss. Like Eastwood's film, Open Range also features a retired gunman who has recourse to his skills to help salvage a situation, and some of the best scenes with Costner's character concern his dispassionate and professional preparation for gunplay. Like William Munny before, Charley Waite has something of an avenging angel about him, whose cold consideration of his trade is filmed completely without irony.

Open Range has all the hallmarks of Costner the western auteur: an expansive, almost leisurely tone, supporting roles for loyal canines, a certain solemnity and respect for his conservative cinematic predecessors being foremost amongst them. As others have said, Costner directs as if Peckinpah and Leone had never existed, and the present work is no exception. Characteristically, it contains none of the self-indulgent nostalgia or cynicism common in the genre since the 1960s. Despite a visual quote from The Wild Bunch (1969) for instance, as men take their long walk abreast to the confrontation, the final shootout of Open Range owes far more to the traditional showdown of Gunfight At The OK Corral (1957) than the apocalyptic finale of Peckinpah's masterpiece. Slow burning, character driven and ruminative, Costner's latest has been criticised by some for its too-deliberate narrative pacing. For an MTV-generation viewing audience, unused to an older, more leisurely way of showing things, such issues are understandable, although no one used to a filmmaker taking his time to tell a good story will complain. Indeed, part of the great success of Open Range is the way it single-mindedly sustains an atmosphere of fateful suspense.

One thing that no one disputes: Duvall is magnificent in his part, a performance that may well prove a capstone to a long and prestigious career. Costner apparently had the actor in mind for the part from the first, a decision justified entirely and one of the highlights of the film. In fact if the film's has a weakness it can be put down to that fact that Spearman holds the stage so successfully, and for so long. Waite's own romance, starting so tentatively, is somewhat overshadowed by the more urgent prerogatives of his partner and when it finally flowers, it leads to some scenes which could have, with prudence been cut back to greater effect. Having said that, Costner's awkward farewell to Miss Barlow, saying so much with so little, just before the fight begins, is another memorable scene where sentimentality is kept happily at bay. It is once the violence is over, and the great tension is dissipated, that matters are drawn out a little too much. A little stoicism might have led to a more memorable close.

Like many good westerns, Open Range's central concerns lie around personal freedom and moral rectitude - the balance between which gives a good deal of the narrative its necessary tension. Like crossing the flood, which pours down the main street of Harmonville, the participants have to choose one side or the other. It's a film ultimately less about a gunfighter settling down, than of how men abide their self-justified actions. In the disc extras, Costner draws an illuminating parallel between the scene in his film in which Spearman and Waite confront the jayhawkers and The Oxbow Incident. In Wellman's 1943 classic, a rushed lynching leads to a disastrous error and mutual guilt. In Costner's film, to whom guilt is assigned is never in doubt, and indeed Spearman initially has to hold Waite back from overstepping the mark - an action which he comes to regret. "I never had any problem with killing," says Waite at one point. Like Eastwood's Munny, once justified he seeks stark retribution without compunction.

There's only one gunfight in Open Range, but it is worth the wait. Spread out almost as leisurely as the rest of the film, Costner and his cinematographer James Muro use a range of shots throughout the violent events to achieve effects both chaotic and planned at the same time. (Incidentally for a filmmaker who prides himself on accuracy, Costner has his hero 'fan' off shots, a notoriously inaccurate way of discharging a gun, but that's a minor distraction.) It's a notable confrontation, an extended set piece sequence that is one of the director's best and confirms his film the finest western since Unforgiven.

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