Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) and Charley White (Kevin Costner) are free grazers who see their cattle stolen by a group of men in cahoots with a nearby town’s sheriff. They’re law-abiding men, which means they don’t take kindly to those who cheat at cards, not to mention anyone who’d kill an innocent pooch (yes, there’s a reason why Charley’s dog gets so much screen time). Like Bob Ross, Costner knows how to evoke the wholesome, untainted splendor of a spacious sky and purple-mountain-majesty, but there’s plenty of dead screen time between the film’s misty opening sequence and the riveting shootout that brings a town together in democratic uplift. Despite Costner’s best efforts, Open Range is nowhere near as philosophically or aesthetically elaborate as Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Because Costner so successfully uses the torrents of nature to evoke Charley’s many emotional ups and downs, the film is repeatedly compromised when he has his character launch into contrived self-pity. With Open Range, Duvall continues to prove why he’s the greatest living actor of our time. As the overly practical Spearman, Duvall is supposed to play second fiddle to Costner’s tortured lone ranger. But while Costner plays his ex-gunslinger’s murderous guilt for woe-is-me pathos, Duvall allows the whip of his undervalued character’s matter-of-fact outbursts to evoke a lifetime of unspoken hurt. Open Range succeeds despite the constant attention to Charley’s inner melodramas (made even more burdensome by the Michael Kamen score) because Costner’s anachronistic mindset (to score a good woman and lay down some roots) is so perfectly in tune with the mentality of the time he’s trying to summon. It also helps that Costner doesn’t allow the hurt inflicted against his oppressed free grazers to approach the wearisome political correctness of his Dances with Wolves.
James Muro’s camerawork for Open Range was the unsung cinematographic wonder of 2003. This two-disc DVD edition preserves that beauty by keeping the supplemental materials away from the actual film. Edge enhancement is present throughout, but it’s pretty non-invasive. The print is pristine, colors are sharp, blacks are deep and there are no compression artifacts on display. Dynamic range is exceptional and midranges are warm on the awesome 5.1 DTS track.
Kevin Costner doesn’t feel the need to introduce himself on his commentary track, but don’t take it as a cocky move on his part. The director is clearly lovestruck by his Open Range landscapes and actors (he calls the scenery "seemingly peaceful" and compares Annette Bening to Susan Hayward and Maureen O’Hara, among others). The track isn’t very lively or informative but Costner’s passion is unmistakable. The fun really begins on the second disc. The eight-part director’s journal "Beyond Open Range" is an impressive chronicle of the film’s evolution from its planning stages to its world premiere and clocks in at 66 minutes. Narrated by Mr. Costner, the 13-minute "America’s Open Range" is a photographic journey back in time to the real open range of the 1800s and should appeal to fans of PBS’s The Civil War. Rounding out the disc are twelve deleted scenes with optional director’s commentary, the impressive "Storyboarding: Open Range," a cheesy music video montage, and trailers for Hidalgo, Veronica Guerin and Cold Creek Manor.
Poor Costner. His Dances with Wolves was so violently over-praised that no one wanted to cut the elegiac and supremely acted Open Range any slack.