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Heroes of the Zeroes: Open Range

by on August 12, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Open Range”
Rated R

Kevin Costner never met a two-hour film he couldn’t overindulgently direct toward two-and-a-half, so 120 great minutes got trapped inside the 135-minute “Open Range” — Costner’s 2003 old-school Western.

Only dopily romantic warm-fuzzies between Costner and Annette Bening marred this oater about big characters in a big country — a plaintive, patient saga about free-grazing cattlemen battling time, opportunity and well-armed thugs led by greedy rancher Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon).

The slow buildup of quaint vistas, warming sun and stinging rain showcases the beauty of what Boss (Robert Duvall) and Charley (Costner) are fighting to enjoy —passing along open-air freedom to drive their cattle wherever they please to following generations.

Costner earns this luxuriance with pristine, straightforward storytelling and folksy characterizations. The crags in Boss and Charley’s faces feel like rings in trees, indicators of all they’ve endured and all they know. It’s a hoot to watch Duvall slap down disrespectful lackeys with his gunbutt and his gabbing, while Costner chews on the clues of Charley’s haunting hired-gun past.

A thunderous climax made it clear “Open Range” only sat for a spell to rest for a bracing finish. Charley and Boss’s showdown with Baxter and his lackeys became one of the Zeroes’ greatest gunfights, one in which the protagonists laid down lives in honor of their credo.

This 20-minute muddy, chaotic scramble started with a shocker, continued with body-wracking buckshot blasts, split hairs between justice and vengeance, and felt over in the time it took the first round’s smoke to clear.