Open Range

dir. Costner

Opens Fri Aug 15

Various Theaters

There are certain sentences one never expects to write. Case in point: The new Kevin Costner picture is not long enough.

Am I high? That depends on just when you're reading this, but as I write this review the answer is no--Kevin Costner's new Western, Open Range (which he directed, mind you), is indeed not long enough.

Still and all, this doesn't mean that the picture is a good one (it's not), just that one notices while watching it that Costner, after the three-hour debacle that was The Postman, is a little gun-shy when it comes to length of opus this time around. Hence Open Range's 110-minute span--a span that is certainly reasonable, but here, given what Costner wishes to show us, comes up rather meager.

The story is big and square and heartfelt: A group of free-grazing ranchers, led by Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) and Charley Waite (Costner), stop their cattle near a dusty town. The town's boss, a corrupt rancher (Michael Gambon) who doesn't like free grazers (since they steal grass from his cattle), takes offense at their presence and attacks two of Spearman and Waite's men, which gives the free grazers no choice but to kill the bastards and get revenge. And kill they will--but not before much brooding about violent pasts has occurred, and Waite, who has tired of life on the prairie, decides he'd like to do a little free grazing on a local nurse name Sue (Annette Benning).

Part standard Western, part attempted romantic epic, Open Range starts patiently and solidly, but ends up rushing through its climax; the romance, such as it is, takes it in the teeth, and what was meant to be big and important, is instead messy and clumsy. Which is too bad, because it has one of the best shootouts in years.