Laconic 'Open Range' has a quiet appeal
Seattle Times movie critic
At his best, Kevin Costner has never been the most energetic of actors; in the films that made his reputation in the '80s and early '90s, he projected a laid-back earnestness that could, with minor adjustments, be sexy ("Bull Durham"), comic ("Tin Cup"), iconic ("Field of Dreams"), thoughtful ("JFK") or just sleepy ("The Bodyguard"). His charisma was in his non-charisma — his regular-guy likability and good looks, like everyone's nice brother-in-law.
"Open Range," his new Western, has a pace as laconic as its director's screen persona. But Costner's wisely given the movie's showier, more complex role to Robert Duvall, and cast himself as the laid-back sidekick, Charley Waite. That's one of the reasons "Open Range" works as well as it does, despite its sometimes overwhelming slowness and some painfully stilted dialogue — it's an opportunity for Duvall, Annette Bening (making a welcome return to the screen after several years' absence) and Costner to find some quiet moments of connection and truth, as if they're in a much smaller movie.
The story follows classic Western lines: a troubled frontier town, the appearance of outsiders (Duvall and Costner, as roaming "freegrazers"), guns, vengeance and the love of a good woman. Costner brings no surprises to the material: It's earnest and straightforward in its depiction of good and evil and of the finality of death, sweetened, unfortunately, by a number of close-ups of dogs.
But Duvall in particular is wonderfully at ease here, giving a drawly spin to his old-cowboy lines as Boss Spearman, a mentor to Charley and a gifted deliverer of horseback wisdom. And the late Michael Jeter makes a poignant appearance as a colorful stable owner.
If Clint Eastwood's marvelously dark "Unforgiven" couldn't reignite the Western, the far less assured "Open Range" certainly won't. But parts of the movie linger afterward, like James Muro's sweeping cinematography and Duvall's detailed portrait of a life spent roaming the plains. Best to thank God, a character advises him. "Well," says Boss, pondering the idea, "we'll give that a try."
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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