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"Open Range" (French Import) - {Blu-ray}
Reviewer:
Taylor Carlson
Studio: Pathe
Genre:
Drama
Release Date:
2009
Special Features:

Kevin Costner Commentary, Other features don't work in American players

Review:

Open Range is directed by Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves.) The fiim stars Kevin Costner (Waterworld), Robert Duvall (Lonesome Dove), Michael Gambon (Harry Potter series), Michael Jeter (The Green Mile), Annette Benning, and James Russo (Broken Trail.) The musical score is composed by Michael Kamen (Last Action Hero.) The film is based on the Lauran Paine story The Open Range Men. ***

Open Range is set in the year 1882, and follows Boss Spearman (Duvall), a free-grazer, and his employee, Charley Waite (Costner.) When the 2 of them and their other workers, Mose Harrison and Button (Diego Luna) visit a town for supplies, they are met with a not-so-welcome reception from Denton Baxter (Gambon), a greedy land baron who rules the town and hates free-grazers. The fact that he owns the local Marshal (Russo) doesn't help things either. When an attack from Baxter's men kills one of the grazers and mortally wounds one, Waite and Spearman befriend the local doctor - and set out to make a stand against Baxter and his men, even if the only help they can get in town is from people who are not gunmen. ***

Open Range is a title that, for some reason or another, has not popped up on Blu-Ray in America yet. However, it can be gotten in the form of this French import disc. The feature film itself is region-free and will work in an American player, although the special features will not. ***

They don't make Westerns like they used to. It's a fact. For every Tombstone or Unforgiven, there is a dud of a film that drags the now less-common genre's reputation back into the mud. Fortunately, Open Range is a Western of recent years that is actually worth your time. ***

Kevin Costner, who stars in and directs the film, is no stranger to the genre, having previously directed and starred in Dances With Wolves, one of the greatest films the Western genre had experienced in years. Despite the film's lengthy run time (probably about 20 minutes longer than it needed to be), he keeps things moving along at a good pace. In the roughly 140-minute span we spend with these characters, we really grow to care for them. ***

Costner's direction is only further complemented by the performances. Costner himself plays Charley Waite, a man who has taken up an honest living with a free-grazing outfit over the last decade - but who, deep down, is unable to escape a dark past he rarely speaks of. Robert Duvall is Boss Spearman, a rigid, hard-working and traditional man of the Old West, with morals and strong beliefs he isn't afraid to exercise - even if the odds are against him. In many ways this character is the polar opposite of his Lonesome Dove character, Augustus McCrae - yet he plays this part equally well. ***

The supporting cast is equally impressive. The true stand-out here is Michael Gambon as Denton Baxter, a ruthless Irish rancher with no respect for free-graze outfits. If you thought all this guy did was Harry Potter movies, you were dead wrong. He creates a Western villain for the ages - so ruthless and sadistic, you'll be cheering for the good guys all the more. James Russo is terrific as Marshal Poole, his right-hand man and corrupt town lawman. Rounding out the impressive supporting cast is Annette Benning as a doctor's assistant and Diego Luna as Button, a 16-year-old boy Boss and company have brought along to help out with their work. ***

Open Range succeeds largely because it plays out more like a drama than a shoot-em-up Western. Costner takes the time to develop these characters, good and evil alike, and as a result we find ourselves actually giving a damn whether or not they live or die. There is only one scene of action in the entire movie, but it is a prolonged action sequence that ranks up there with the best gunfights in the history of the Western genre (okay, some people may want to debate that with me, but that's a story for another day.) If you want to witness Western drama at its finest, you have found your film. If you want a Western where guns are blazing throughout the entire picture, look someplace else. ***

As much as I love the film, it isn't perfect. The romantic subplot between Costner and Benning's characters is paper-thin and doesn't really go anywhere. It feels contrived and forced, and truth be told, I never believed any of these scenes. The movie is about 20 minutes too long - at times it does get a bit “talky.” Lastly, if you're expecting something totally original, you won't find it here. Even with Costner breathing new life into this age-old story, it isn't anything new - and any fan of Westerns will recognize this right-off and find it a bit predictable. ***

Flaws aside, Open Range is the best Western film of the last decade, with very few films even having come about to challenge that title. Kevin Costner is a genius on both sides of the camera, and not since Dances With Wolves has a movie of his demonstrated this so well. ---

Image And Sound:

This is a movie I was very much eager to import on Blu-Ray, since Buena Vista seems to be taking their sweet time getting a disc out here in the United States. The result is a mixed bag. ***

The video quality is more detailed and vibrant than my upscaled DVD version, but still leaves a lot to be desired. The level of detail is nowhere near that of other films from recent years I own on the format, and some of the less-than-detailed facial features give me the impression some noise reduction was used on this transfer. Some of the softness can be attributed to the filming style (there are a few scenes where faces look downright waxy), but I am still surprised to see the transfer didn't quite turn out as well as I had hoped. Is it an upgrade from the DVD? Absolutely, but probably not the massive one fans will want. Don't over-expect the way I did. ***

But on the good side, there is a lossless English audio track on this disc - and it is a damn good one. The thunder throughout the movie will give your subwoofer a shock, and the gunshots in the climax will give all your speakers a long-overdue workout. Voices, the musical score, and other sound effects all come across excellently. This is a great audio track. I have seen people on some other sites argue about some pitch problems, but I couldn't detect anything. ***

For the record, the film features both French and the original English audio track. It does NOT feature forced French subtitles, as many imported movies from this region do.

Special Features:

The Kevin Costner commentary from the DVD is ported over to this disc, which is an interesting listen for fans. Some (but as far as I can tell, not all) features from the DVD are ported over here as well, however they do not work in an American player, sadly.

Final Words:

Open Range is the best Western of recent years, and it is sad to see Buena Vista has not released a domestic Blu-Ray yet. This French Blu-Ray release has a decent (but not great) video transfer, and its features (aside from the Costner commentary) don't work in American players. The audio track, however, steals the show and brings the movie new life. Should you import this disc? Only if you are a die-hard fan of the film and don't want to wait. Otherwise, hold off for the inevitable American release.

 

 
 
 
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