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Reviews: Open Range Now Playing in Uk and Europe March/April 2004

The Western Is Back
(At Least It Should Be).
Jeff Beyl

Open Range
Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner,
Annette Bening
Directed by Kevin Costner

You know, I thought it might happen several years ago when Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones did "Lonesome Dove". Have there ever been a couple better movie cowboys than those two? Then I thought it might happen when Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer did "Tombstone". If the real Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were half as tough as they were portrayed in that movie then, wow, bad news for the bad guys.

I was sure it would happen when Kevin Costner came out with "Dances With Wolves", then again with his version of "Wyatt Earp". But no. Now I’m hoping, again, that western movies make a resurgence with Costner’s new film "Open Range".

For too many years, it seems, the western movie has been dead. I grew up on cowboy movies. I grew up watching The Duke. Say what you will. John Wayne may not have been the greatest actor but he sure made a good cowboy. Many of the greats did westerns; Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck. Remember the movie "How The West Was Won"? How about "The Magnificent Seven", still one of my all time favorites. Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen embodied the great American western hero as they fought against seemingly insurmountable odds, strutting their stuff along the dusty streets of that Mexican village. When I was a kid western shows were all over the television. We watched "Gunsmoke", "The Big Valley", "Rawhide", "Wanted, Dead or Alive", "Have Gun, Will Travel", " The Rifleman", "Wagon Train", "Broken Arrow" and of course everybody’s favorite, "Bonanza".

Western movies and shows not only created some great characters like Rooster Cogburn, Ben Cartwright, Little Joe and Hoss, Marshall Dillon, Paladin, they also gave us many strong, heroic female leads as well. Remember Barbara Stanwick in "The Big Valley"? She was a tough ol’ gal. How about Clara Allen in "Lonesome Dove", or Diane Lane as Lorena Wood in the same movie? Beautiful, vulnerable, yet full of pluck.

And how about music? Western movies have given us some incredible, memorable soundtracks too. Try this; hum the basic tune from "The Magnificent Seven" or "Bonanza". Go ahead. See what I mean?

However, the western movie has fallen away from popularity and though some have tried they still have not really made a comeback. I think that’s too bad. There is a song called "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" and I agree. Willie Nelson sings it and though he didn’t write it he, too, has acted in several western movies. But who are the movie heroes of today? Vin Diesel? The "Bad Boys"? "SWAT"? I saw "Bad Boys 2" recently with my thirteen year old son. Okay, it was exciting and action packed, that’s for sure. But somehow it was just too unreal. In fact, it was preposterous. Oh yeah, they saved the day and shot all the bad guys and got the pretty girl in the end which is what we all want to see. But to me, Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Charlie in "Open Range" rings more true to life. He, too, shoots the bad guys and gets the pretty girl in the end. But even this pretty girl is different, more natural. Annette Benning plays an older, wiser, been around the block (or in this case, the prairie) yet still a knockout, woman of fortitude and mettle. She doctors up a few people in the movie and yells at the bad guy but she seems more authentic, and hence more heroic and courageous, than that sexy young thing in "Bad Boys 2" who we are supposed to believe is an undercover DEA agent. Yeah, right!

There is another one like that in the new "2 Fast, 2 Furious" movie; a young, sexy, hair always perfect, designer clothes always fitting just right, gun totin’, bad guy killin’, sashaying chick. How about the Lara Croft movies? Oh Angelia Jolie always looks great, even when she’s kickin’ some bad dude’s butt. I don’t know, folks, give me Annette Benning any day, even with the mussed hair and the smudges.

I think Robert Duvall has perfected the art of acting as a cowboy. His Gus McRae in "Lonesome Dove" is one of the best, most fully rounded, yet simple characters in the western canon. And talk about true grit. Gus McCrae and Captain Woodrow Call were some of the toughest hombres in the west. Now he gives us Boss in "Open Range". He looks the part, acts the part, curses and spits and makes us believe that he is genuine. The characters in this movie are genuine in that they are flawed and unsophisticated yet caring and heroic, shining diamonds in the rough.

I enjoyed watching "Open Range" In the midst of all of the action packed, fantastical, summer block busters that are slapping us all in the face it is a cinematic, well presented movie. So, is the western back? Maybe. I hope so.

© Jeffrey Beyl September 2003
Seattle, WA

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