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The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: Open Range

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

“Open Range”
Rated R
2003

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.

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6 Responses to “Heroes of the Zeroes: Open Range”

  1. Joe Shearer says:

    Considering I was on a corded phone, I had to use what we’ll call the Long Car Trip method. And that’s all we’ll say about that.

  2. Nick Rogers says:

    Hmmm. Then someone else with Yap FB access did. No matter. I’ve eaten at Brugge, actually, and loved it. No idea that he owned the place. Awesome.

    I hope your creative measure was that you just held it in via breathing technique. Otherwise, I don’t think I want to know.

  3. Joe Shearer says:

    Nick, I didn’t mention "Appaloosa" on FB because I didn’t see it, but agreed on Jesse James (and I do remember 3:10 to Yuma kicking things off!

    Benrubi is the son of a radio jock named The Atom Smasher. I actually interviewed him and spent an evening with him at his bar here in Broad Ripple, the Brugge Brasserie. He was appearing in "Miss Congeniality 2" at the time and was really excited about his fight scene with William Shatner in that film that I believe ended up not even making it into the final cut. We also talked about Costner quite a bit as well. I remember I spoke with him for almost 45 minutes, and had to pee REALLY badly about halfway through. Rather than asking him to hold, I had to resort to…shall we say creative measures to take care of my issue.

    He was a REALLY nice guy and was working tables for his restaurant, making the rounds and talking to people. He was sweating and kept coming back to me apologizing for leaving me. He actually signed my "Open Range" DVD for me.

  4. Nick Rogers says:

    Joe: The "3:10 to Yuma" remake kicked this whole list off way back in January, and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" made this list as well. By my count, there’s one more coming up on this list. I think you mentioned "Appaloosa" on Facebook. I didn’t dislike Appaloosa, but I found it predictable and plodding after the first hour or so. Viggo Mortensen, however, was reliably terrific.

    Didn’t know Benrubi was an Indy native. That guy’s had a modestly successful character-actor career.

    And you’re right: There *are* some nice moments between Bening and Costner, the dirt-shoveling being one of them. It’s just that the protracted coda between them just feels … off somehow.

    My favorite moment of the gunfight kicks it off when SPOILER Costner asks the crack-shot ringer if he’s the man who killed their friend and puts one right in his brainpan after he answers "yes." I uttered a profanity out loud right in the middle of the movie theater.

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  6. Joe Shearer says:

    Another OUTSTANDING and heavily overlooked film. Of course Westerns aren’t exactly en vogue at the moment, and there are just a few from the 00s that are worth your time (James Mangold’s "3:10 to Yuma" remake is the other that pops out in my mind immediately).

    This is a pretty darn terrific character-driven affair, and be sure to check out Indy native Abraham Benrubi as the big guy in Boss and Charley’s "gang," whose beating is the inciting action of the film.

    You’re right that the gunfight is tremendous, and I did like the Bening/Costner romance, though I do agree it could be cut pretty heavily. The moments where Charley realizes he’s tracked dirt into her house, and starts shoveling these dirt clods into his hat, is a really nice moment.