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The great western is something we rarely see onscreen in this day and age. Perhaps they are not as entertaining or as audacious as they one used to be? One thing is for sure though, we’re rarely afforded the opportunity to see a good old fashioned tale set in the old west; until now that is. Based on the book of the same name, Kevin Costner helms this project and tries to redeem the downward spiral that’s hit him of late. Can he rise of the occasion or will he be gunned down in a no-win scenario? Read on to find out.

A great cast can always drive a movie and sustain it even thought its darkest times. Thankfully Costner assembled a fantastic array of talent for Open Range, and even more astonishingly the cast didn’t need to carry this film through any blandness of any kind.

Indeed, Open Range finally delivers two impressive goals: it successfully rubs away any doubt about Costner’s filmmaking talent, and it injects a healthy dose of fun and charm into the seemingly dead western. Hopefully more of the same genre will sprout up more frequently, and with this film being such a success (grossing upwards of $60 million in the US alone) studio execs should smell the opportunity.

Ask any western pundit what they enjoy most in this genre and they will tell you it’s the gun fights, the sweeping shots of dusty scenery, the occasional sunrise with character silhouetted poetically against the horizon and the unforgettable ventures into town. The town will normally be presented with barely three shops and all of whom have people snooping out the window at new folk. Perhaps these are merely cliché’s but it wouldn’t be a western without them. Open Range has all of these and even manages to borrow certain traits from Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood along the way.

The story is fairly straightforward; a fellowship of free-graze cowboys finds themselves in turmoil when they encounter a corrupt landowner who governs his land with fear and brutal violence. Costner may direct and star but—and as critics everywhere have duly noted—it’s Robert Duvall who steals the show entirely. In saying that however, the acting is exemplary from all involved not least from American Beauty’s very own Annette Bening. As you would expect, the imagery captured on screen is both breathtaking and often exhilarating, but it always remains truly authentic to the old west films of times past.

At the heart of any good film is a good story. The adaptation is both literate and flowing with authenticity from scene to scene. It’s perhaps not quite Oscar worthy, but will nonetheless encapsulate anyone who appreciates a well told story. Pacing is something of an issue here however. If slow moving and often plodding action is not your thing you may find yourself bored stiff. Indeed, it moves at its own pace and often feels detached from modern Hollywood fares in this particular regard.

Open range is a deliciously fun and fresh take on the genre that was long overdue and its forthcoming is welcomed with open arms every bit as much as Costner’s return to form. It’s no classic but it’s a damn fine western and that much is certain.

Filmed in glorious 2.35:1 widescreen, director Costner and cinematographer James Muro fill every frame with dusty, subtle images you would only ever find in a western. The digital transfer represents this visual beauty with near prefect results.

I say near perfect because this transfer could have been better than it is. Fine detail isn’t always up to scratch and there’s a lot of bright saturation (due in part to the outdoor location shooting). That aside, the image really is pretty and often artistic to gaze upon. Colours are mostly vivid, often assorted sufficiency against the epic backdrop of scenery.

Coming with only a Dolby 5.1 mix is somewhat disappointing considering the region one released packs both Dolby and DTS soundtracks. Never the less, Dolby treats us to a captivating, somewhat dainty fest here that should more often that not raise the eyebrows a notch or two.

Admittedly Open Range is more centre-loaded on the whole, but when gun fire erupts, so will your surround speakers and sub.

The dialogue (and there’s lots of it) comes off rather clearly, with good all-round focus and clarity. Directional effects remain strong in the action scenes and with heavy surprisingly detailed lower frequency effects to complement the score.

Being surcharged once more over the region one issue of the film, Open Range looks rather ill and dim-witted compared to its American counterpart. Lacking the second disc is something of a major disappointment, but at least we still get the rather good-natured commentary from director Costner.

Indeed, this is perhaps the best feature on the disc, and perhaps the most informative. What’s left is a mere scraping of the region one disc and I daresay Universal left us with some of the most so-so features.

America’s Open Range is a rather boring insight into the real west as narrated by Costner himself. It used a series of black and white images and excerpts to tell the story of the old west. See it as a history lesson and it may inspire some attention.

The deleted scenes are nothing spectacular, and only go to serve as to the reason why they were cut in the first place. Most comes accompanied with commentary by Costner explaining the reasons for their cut which are fairly obvious when viewed collectively; they slowed the movie down far too much.

Finally there is an out of place rock/pop music video entitled Broken Wagon. It shows scenes from the movie as well as extensive behind the scenes footage.

A very decent DVD that you must check out is slightly marred by a disappointing array of special features. On the plus side however, the video and audio aspects are extremely polished and often impressive enough to warrant a purchase on that merit alone.  

The film itself is a worthy addition to the western and certainly a refreshing comeback. Costner resurrects himself in the process and add to that the box office success and Open Range really is a multi-achieving piece of work. I’d highly recommend this DVD but the extras may leave you wanting.