I wrote several months ago about my not enjoying Westerns, as a class of movies, for many years. This has changed recently as I have grown to appreciate many types of film more and more. (I still do not like most all horror films, as one example.) But I can get into the story form of the Western medium more and more. (Perhaps the reason is most of these films have a story-line.) A few recent films have changed my mind about Westerns in particular and thus have given me a new taste for truly good Westerns. This week I discovered the film Open Range, which I had missed when it came out in 2003. This has to be one of the best modern Westerns I have seen. It has all the elements of the post-Civil War West: a small town, cattle drives, good and evil people, justice and injustice, love and hate. It is simply a great movie that enthralls the viewer almost from the beginning.
The star power here is enough to make the film worthwhile. The film features Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall and Annette Bening. Charley Waite (Costner) has traded a life of violence and war-time killing for the open range and cattle. He is genuinely trying to cope with the demons of his dark past. As Charley seeks some kind of redemption he also forms a deep male friendship with an older cattleman named Boss Spearman (Duvall). You find out in the movie that "Boss" is, of course, not his real name. When he reveals his first name to Charley you have to laugh out loud when Boss makes him promise to never reveal his full name to a soul!
The movie is built around a story of personal struggle, the pursuit of forgiveness, power and corruption. A small Montana town is controlled by a brutal and angry Irishman named Baxter who is determined to drive all "free grazing" cattlemen far away. In the process one of Boss Spearman’s hands is brutally murdered as these "free grazers" stumble into this mess. Revenge and confrontation follows. The film contains a good deal of Western-style shooting and killing but even the relationship that forms between the leading man and woman is both chaste and quite beautiful. Frankly, the film possesses some great redemptive qualities but most of all it is just a great story with great acting and great lines for the characters that are at times memorable. Kevin Costner produced and directed the film. I think his role in Open Range is as good as any he has ever played in a major film.
I highly recommend Open Range for a relaxed and enjoyable experience. It is a truly great Western. I do not think serious film fans will be disappointed at all.