Cinemas are slowly reopening around the world. This unknown time in moviedom is the perfect moment to explore a classic from the Touchstone Pictures vault, Kevin Costner’s epic western Open Range. Be prepared before you take this journey into the Old West. It’s wild and violent and a truer depiction of this rugged time than most western movies.

The Plot

Boss and Charley, played by Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner, are free-range cattle drivers wandering the plains with their herd and their compatriots, Button and Mose, played by Diego Luna and Abraham Benrubi. The group encounters trouble when they meet a rancher named Baxter, played by Michael Gambon.

Baxter owns the local town, including the Sherriff, and Baxter hates free grazers. It quickly becomes apparent to Boss and Charley that they are not welcome in this part of the country. A confrontation leads to violence and death, and an inevitable final showdown between Baxter’s goons and Boss and Charley.

The local townspeople, including the doctor’s sister, Sue, played by Annette Bening, have suffered under Baxter’s totalitarian rule for too long. Though many townsfolk are scared and run for cover, a few intrepid citizens aide Boss and Charley, including a livery operator named Percy, played by Michael Jeter. For all the help they receive, it’s Boss and Charley who must rely on one another to survive Baxter and his army of goons.

The Best Moments on Screen

Kevin Costner is fantastic in the role of Charley. He plays the cowboy with restraint and never overshadows Robert Duvall’s Boss. Charley may act like a quiet introvert, but he is a stone-cold killer. Costner has one of his toughest roles in the film because he is forced to play a duality in Charley. On one hand he is the shy right-hand man to Boss, following the lead of his mentor, and on the other hand Charley has repressed his anger and violence so much that he needs to wait for Boss to approve before he shows his true self. Costner ups his acting game by infusing his character with such a strong sense of self-loathing for past deeds that viewers can’t help but feel empathy for the man. He also has one of the best shootouts with a gunfighter played by Kim Coates. This scene alone cements Open Range as an excellent film.

The scenery is beautiful. Costner the director has a talent for letting the landscape aide in telling the story. The camera pans over the setting with long enough shots that make the viewer see the beauty of the Old West. Through the camera lens, he also shows the audience the truth of the Old West. Towns with mud-covered streets which get washed out in heavy rains and characters that can’t avoid the physical and emotional dirt of the time. Watching Open Range, you get the feeling that it would be impossible not to be filthy in the Old West.

The Worst Moments on Screen

I found the romance between Costner and Bening to be a bit awkward. The talent of the two actors make this odd relationship work, but it could have been left on the cutting room floor.

Film Facts

  • The film was shot on location in Alberta, Canada.
  • Apparently, Costner had requested that Duvall be top-billed on the marquee and not himself.
  • Costner had turned down the role of Bill in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 so that he could make Open Range.
  • Duvall had practiced his riding skills prior to filming and was injured after being thrown from a horse.
  • Costner was so set on Duvall playing the role of Boss that had the actor turned down the role, Costner isn’t sure if he would have made the movie.
  • Duvall apparently liked the role of Boss so much that he accepted the part within a day of reading the script.
  • Apparently, the set for the film was so remote that a special road had to be constructed just to get to the set, which reportedly cost tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Costner and his co-producers paid for half the budget of the film.
  • Cinematographer James M. Muro, was a cameraman on Costner’s Dances with Wolves.
  • Apparently, Duvall did not enjoy working in Canada.
  • The movie received an R rating for violence.
  • Open Range was one of Michael Jeter’s last film roles before his death in March of 2003.

See It/Skip It?

See It! Open Range is a fantastic film and, in my opinion, one of the best westerns from the last fifty years. What makes Open Range stand above every other film is a combination of the actors, the scenery, and the story. Boss and Charley are likable characters that have two talented actors like Duvall and Costner shine in their roles. What takes the film an extra step above a lot of westerns that claim realism, (I’m looking at you Unforgiven) is that while this film doesn’t shy away from violence it also shows characters that seem genuine and real, instead of caricatures of emotion on screen.

Viewers will connect with Boss and Charley, despise Baxter, and admire Sue. At the same time, an audience will watch Open Range and see another side to life in the Old West. It wasn’t a romantic glorious time. People worked hard, died young, and in many cases would settle their differences with guns.

Open Range is a must-see.

Next week on ‘Touchstone and Beyond’ a brief history of how Touchstone Pictures came to be founded and how it ended.

Director: Kevin Costner

Production Company: Touchstone Pictures

Principal Cast:

  • Robert Duvall as Boss
  • Kevin Costner as Charley
  • Michael Gambon as Baxter
  • Diego Luna as Button
  • Abraham Benrubi as Mose
  • Annette Bening as Sue
  • Michael Jeter as Percy          

Release Date: August 15, 2003

Budget: $22 million

Box Office Gross Domestic = $58,331,254

                      Worldwide = $68,296,293