Open Range

Open Range (2003)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, Annette Bening
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Director’s Journal, Deleted Scenes, Storyboards, Music Video

The times where the Wild West were portrayed as a wonderfully romantic era populated with nothing but larger-than-life characters is definitely over. During the past 10+ years we have seen increasingly critical movies who take a closer look at the period, showing us that oftentimes there was little room for glory and romanticism in a world that was harsh and uncompromising. After Clint Eastwood’s "Unforgiven," Kevin Costner’s latest film "Open Range" is certainly one of the most impressive movies about the human struggle during these times.

Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) has been a freegrazer for many years, leading his herds of cattle over vast areas of land with the help of his friend and partner Charley Waite (Kevin Costner.) Accompanied by their cowhands Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and Button (Diego Luna) they once again hit it rough in a smalltown where the locals feel threatened by the traveling freegrazers. A corrupt sheriff and a power-hungry land owner try to put the squeeze on the group in an effort to get them off what they consider "their" land. Things escalate very quickly and the locals kill Mose and critically wound Button. Outraged, Boss decides to take on the marauders and together with Charley he is making plans to make them pay for the murder. As they prepare to face the unflinching town, both Boss and Charley know that there is a very good chance of both of them dying in the process. Slowly they each begin to take down the masks they’ve been wearing for many years, both revealing their past, their hopes, their thoughts and their fears to each other. In the end they are determined to die for the justice, the honor, and the way of life they are fighting for.

Once again, Kevin Costner delivers a remarkable film that he also directed. Capturing the glory of the West with wonderful vistas and panoramas the movie is filled with breathtaking images. At the same time they never overpower the human aspect of the story. The ordeal Boss and Charley go through is always at the center of the film as we witness dramatic events push them to the brink. Their decision to fight the local gun hands doesn’t come easy. The prospect of taking other people’s lives is nothing they decide rashly upon. Years of repression lead up to the final conflict that simply boils over as their encounter with yet another-deluded landowner turns bloody in Mose’s murder. The way it is told is adventurous and full of action despite the fact that the film takes a close look at the psychological stress involved, and the climactic shoot-out is nothing short of staggering in its choreography, visuals, violence and gut-wrenching drama.

It is needless to say, I think, that the film is also perfectly cast. Robert Duvall is giving a pivotal performance that once again raised my respect for what is one of Hollywood’s most accomplished actors already. Kevin Costner is also in top shape once again with a performance that is grounded, natural and exceedingly human.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment is presenting "Open Range" in its original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this 2-disc DVD in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. The presentation is wonderfully rich and clean, free of blemishes of any sort. Not a speckle is in sight and the image’s level of details is very high, leaving even intricate details in the wonderful shots fully intact. Colors are lush and vibrant, yet are never over-saturated, and the presentation’s black levels are solid without breaking up. Highlights are balanced, giving the transfer good contrast and thus helping to bring the film to life on your screen. The slightest of edge-enhancement is evident in a few selected shots, but for the most part the image is free of any distracting artifacts, including a compression that is making sure every little detail remains fully intact.

The audio on the DVD presents itself as a dynamic and rich <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix that makes aggressive use of the surround channels throughout the movie. The wide sound field with a score that virtually sweeps in on has been magnificently crafted. Sound effects are perfectly placed and make full use of the spatial opportunities this multi-channel presentation affords them. Once the bullets start flying, the viewer is thrown in the midst of them, making you want to duck your head as you hear them whizzing by. A <$DTS,DTS> track is also included, which is equally impressive and manages to delineate some of the spatial elements of the track even better. The quality of both tracks is of such high quality, however, that either one makes a perfect listening choice.

A <$commentary,commentary track> by Kevin Costner can be found in the DVD and it is certainly a track to listen to. Costner is talking very candidly about the production as well as his own feelings to wards the many plot points of the story. The commentary is engaging and conversational making it informative, insightful and entertaining at the very same time.

Enter disc two. Here we find a wealth of supplements that make "Open Range" one of the most engaging Special Editions currently around. Especially the Director’s Journal "Beyond Open Range" is a great addition. In many ways it doubles what Costner covers in the <$commentary,commentary track>, but nonetheless combined with the on-set footage and such, it is a great way to experience first-handedly how a movie of this scope is coming together, and how Costner handles his acting-directing double-duty.

"America’s Open Range" is a featurette that digs into history and takes a look at the real 1800s to see what open ranging cattle herding was like. The featurette is narrated by Kevin Costner and manages to fill in many holes and supply a lot of additional information.
A selection of deleted Scenes with commentary by the director, as well as storyboards can also be found on this disc, as well as a music video with a montage of footage from the film.

"Open Range" is a very impressive film. Once again, like in "Dances with Wolves," Costner manages to take a piece of American history, add to it emotions and real human characters, and thus bringing it to life with the realism we’ve rarely seen in the genre. A cinematic showstopper, a testimonial to a great cast and a story that is as powerful as it is engaging, "Open Range" is one of those must-see films that belong into every DVD owners collection.