No jokes about The Postman ringing twice for Kevin Costner — the star of this purty but shallow Western gets a few things right. Open Range is the third film he’s directed, following his Oscar-winning Dances With Wolves and belly-flopping Postman.
There’s an outline for something satisfying in Craig Storper’s script about two ex-outlaws, Charley (Costner) and Boss (Robert Duvall, great as usual), trying to make their redemption stick by herding cattle on the open range, circa 1882, along with two young recruits, Mose (Abraham Benrubi) and Button (Diego Luna of Y Tu Mama Tambien). It’s when the men run afoul of the villainous Baxter (Michael Gambon), who rules a town they stop in, that the shootin’ starts. Before the climactic gunfight — it’s a doozy — Charley falls hard for the town spinster (Annette Bening). Costner has a sweet tooth for sentiment. I flinched when Duvall had to clench his jaw, choke back tears and say, “They shot our dog.”
Costner is quite a way from Unforgiven, despite borrowing that film’s executive producer, David Valdes. Open Range copies the rain and flood of the Clint Eastwood classic but can’t match it for dark-night-of-the-soul brilliance — not with dogs getting shot, Duvall speechifyin’ about freedom in this country and Costner talking mush about kisses. These guys are killers, but Costner wants us to see them as gentle and caring knights at heart. Forget Unforgiven — Costner’s kind of insufferable nobility is unforgivable.