starring Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, Annette Benin , Michael Gambon, Abraham Benrubi, Diego Luna, Michael Jeter and James Russo
written by Craig Storper
directed by Kevin Costner
This is another Kevin Costner movie set in the American west - in 1882, to be exact. What is it with Kevin Costner and the old American west? Costner plays Charlie Waite, partnered in the cattle business with Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) - two cowboys driving their herd of cattle cross country in what was called “free grazing,” a practice that was still legal in many parts of the American west at the time, but which was fast disappearing under pressure from large beef ranch owners who were busy putting up the newly-invented barbed wire that - together with the advance of railroads - helped put an end to the long cross-country cattle drives that have so often been featured in cowboy movies.
Naturally, there is a climactic gunfight in a small, muddy frontier town all made of unpainted wooden planks. Naturally, the town Marshall is a corrupt cop in the pocket of the largest local cattle rancher. And, naturally, Charlie Waite turns out to be an expert gunman, a veteran killer with a guilty conscience searching for absolution in the beauty and virtue of the still-untouched, pure American wilderness. (Incidentally, portions of the movie were shot in Canada.)
The film is very beautiful, with panoramic shots of grassy plains and mountainous horizons, dark storm clouds advancing over the land and tough, independent cowboys roughing it out, camped around their chuckwagon. But what was most interesting to me was this conflict between “free grazers” and established landowners. I don’t know much about the nitty-gritty of American history in the rural west at this time, but it sounds like an historically accurate thing to me.
After their successful climactic gunfight Charlie and Boss decide to settle down to town life - get married even. It is synonymous with what was happening in America, the gradual urbanization that is still occurring today. The West was won and it was time for a more settled, less itinerant social life - a time of painted clapboard houses, paved streets, and clothing more gaily tailored than the ubiquitous brown of the cowboy outfits we see in the movies. Although Costner and Duvall - and Clint Eastwood, too - make brown look pretty good.
Naturally, the Japanese title of this film is a bit different from the English title. This often happens. First, there is the difficulty of accurate translation. Second, there is the problem of cultural expectations of an actor, a movie, a genre of film, etc. The Japanese title of “Open Range” is “Wild Range.” I imagine that in the American imagination the frontier represents unhindered freedom and individual self-reliance - hence “openness.” But to the Japanese imagination the old American west represents danger, wildness, and wilderness. They have to choose movie titles - or shape them - to fit their cultural expectations. In this I think the American and Japanese interpretations of the story are at odds. As I said, America was becoming more settled, towns were growing, and the itinerant beef herder was increasingly out of date by the 1880s when this movie is set. But for Japanese the idea remains the opposite - unsettledness.
I recently saw another Robert Duvall movie on video - “Secondhand Lions,”co-starring Michael Caine and Haley Joel Osment. I thought it was excellent, which might mean that Robert Duvall is on of my favorite actors.