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Film / Open Range

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Open Range is a 2003 Western film directed by and starring Kevin Costner alongside Robert Duvall, Annette Bening, Michael Gambon and Diego Luna. The film is partially a deconstruction of many old western films where a lone hero rides into town and stands up for the downtrodden townsfolk against the mustache-twirling villain.

In Open Range, the hero isn't lone... he has his boss, and two friends. He's also not a gallant, dashing hero with an iron jaw and an ironclad sense of justice... he's a Civil War veteran with PTSD who struggles constantly against the psychosis and guilt inflicted by what he's done in the past, trying desperately to find what's right in the situation. His love interest is not the naive young maiden who's desired by all in town, but a woman of his own middling years who's rather weathered and cynical in her own right.

Overall, the film is more interested in using these to add more realism and a sense of being an actual time in history to a classic cowboy story. For all its Darker and Edgier take on the cowboy hero, it is ultimately an idealistic tale of good men doing something and not allowing evil to triumph.

Costner's next directorial effort happened 21 years later and again in the Western genre, Horizon: An American Saga.

This film provides examples of:

  • The Atoner: Charley committed crimes during the Civil War. Then he worked as a hired gun and committed more crimes. Now he realize the bad things he did and tries to find redemption.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Charley, thanks to his extensive combat experience, is able to predict about 80% of the fight before it even starts, to the point of predicting what mistakes their opponents are most likely to make. ("I'm almost certain they'll be overly confident in their numbers..."), to the point of (as mentioned below) determining the most probable spots to cache spare weapons in town so they'll be available when the battle moves there. This ability to foresee most of the battle is the only reason two men are able to survive an attack by over a dozen. Charley's plan only begins to fall apart at the very end, as the last phase of the battle turns on several events impossible to know ahead of time (exactly when Baxter's men will have their nerve break, at what point the townsfolk will finally join in, etc.)
  • Blown Across the Room: A number of the one-shot kills during the gunfight.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Butler's fate.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Played straight in the final showdown. On various occasions, Charley fires a lot more than 6 shots from his revolver. He's even fanning it to fire faster. When he switches the Winchester Repeating Rifle to engage targets from further away, he also fires a lot more shots than the magazine capacity allows. The movie occasionally shows characters reloading their firearms and switching guns, but most of the time they don't seem to need reloading.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Baxter's gang was rather eager to pick a fight with the 6'7 Mose, setting off the events of the movie, and leaving several of them heavily injured.
  • But Now I Must Go: Subverted. Charley asks Sue to come, because he needs to talk to her. He tells her that he will leave the town soon. Finally, he leaves, but he comes back soon and proposes to Sue.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Butler.
    "You the one that shot our friend?"
    "That's right. I shot the boy, too. And I enjoyed it."
  • Cattle Baron: Baxter.
  • Character Witness: Charley saves the dog of Mack from drowning. Later, the barkeep refuses to serve Boss and Charley. Mack then tries to convince the barkeep to serve them. Later, Mack and his sons help Boss and Charley in the shootout.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Butler is the only professional killer amongst Baxter's gang of thugs and cowhands, the fastest and best marksman, and even with one arm in a sling the most dangerous opponent by far. Charley shoots him cold in the middle of a conversation precisely to avoid having to deal with him on even terms.
    • Charlie and Boss are pretty much like this in general. When they see a bunch of guys scoping out the herd, instead of just riding headfirst into a gun fight, they sneak up on them during the night and get the drop on them, before they can make a move.
  • Cool Old Guy: Boss Spearman is an old guy, but he is very good at kicking the ass of the bad guys.
  • Cowboy: Working
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Charley's backstory: his father died when he was still a child, his mother was raped by her landlord, he killed the landlord, he committed crimes during the Civil War, he committed more crimes as a hired gun after the war.
  • Daydream Surprise: Charley falls asleep at the doctor's. A masked man enters the house and approaches him. Charley wakes up suddenly and brandishes his gun toward... Sue. It was just a dream.
  • The Dragon: Butler
  • Embarrassing First Name: Boss's first name is Bluebonnet. You can't blame him for going by "Boss."
  • Embarrassing Last Name: Charley's last name is Postelwaite. Charley is embarrassed when he realizes that Boss told Sue his real name.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Everyone calls the boss of the cowboys Boss. Justified because his actual first name is embarrassing.
  • Foreshadowing: An in-universe example, when Boss picks up on the subtext of a story someone told earlier.
    "Most times a man will tell you his bad intentions ahead of time, if you listen."
  • Gentle Giant: Mose.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The AMC broadcast creates one by making the gunshot softer and speeding up his fall backward so that you don't see the new hole in his head when Butler is shot.
  • Guns Akimbo: Charley in the final showdown towards the end of the scene is shown with a revolver in both hands.
  • Happily Ever After: In the end, Charley proposes to Sue and she accepts.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: The main characters have a dog companion.
  • Informed Ability: Butler is stated to be a dangerous gunfighter but doesn't get to show this onscreen, due to Charley killing him immediately with a headshot.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Averted with Button, who gets shot early on and survives the rest of the movie.
    • During the final gunfight, various characters including Boss and Baxter get shot but keep fighting. Baxter finally succumbs after what looks like taking twelve shots to the upper body, but is still breathing long enough for Boss to be tempted with the idea of putting one final bullet in Baxter's head to make sure.
    • Played straight with Butler who gets what's coming to him.
  • Kick the Dog: The Marshall and his men kill the dog Tig, shoot the wounded Gentle Giant in head and then nearly beat a boy to death.
  • Instant Sedation: Boss uses chloroform to neutralize the marshal and his deputies.
  • I Own This Town: After meeting Baxter at the marshal's office, Boss says that Baxter wanted to let them know that he owned the town. Actually, Baxter controls the marshal and his deputies. He owns the saloon too.
  • The Lancer: Charley, to Boss.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: Baxter's henchmen wear face-concealing masks when they harass the cowboys. Later, Charley dreams that a masked man enters the house of the doctor.
  • Morality Pet: In some ways, Button (and to some extent, his other friends as well) are this for Charley.
  • Mugging the Monster: Baxter thought that bullying four cowboys would be easy. He did not know that one of them was a Retired Gunfighter and another one was a determined Cool Old Guy.
  • No Party Given: Or, more accurately, no side given. Charley never says whether he fought for the Union or Confederacy in the Civil War. Although the odds are much higher that he fought for the Confederacy than the Union; the Confederates had several irregular units like the one Charley describes (Quantrill's raiders, "Bloody Bill" Anderson's men, Mosby's Rangers, etc.) that operated freely throughout the war, while the Union had far fewer (Lane's "jayhawkers" being the only really prominent one) and allowed them to operate for a much shorter period of time.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Charley acknowledges that he worked for men like Baxter and that he committed the kind of atrocities that Baxter's henchmen do.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Charley is called Waite, but his real name is Charles Travis Postelwaite. Button is a nickname too, and Boss and Charley do not know the real name of their companion.
  • Pet the Dog: Charley saves a townsman's dog from drowning in the flooded street.
    • Various acts of charity that Boss and Charley commit during their stay in the town help win over the community to their side during the final gunfight.
    • When Sue runs into the potential crossfire between Baxter's men and the townspeople to attend to Button, Marshall Poole tries to gently prod her to go someplace safe.
  • Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: In the end of the shootout, Marshal Pool holds Button hostage and Baxter asks Boss and Charley to put down their guns.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: A very mild example, in which Boss and Charley both tell God they're inclined to hold a grudge for what's happened to their friends.
  • Recruited from the Gutter: Boss hired Button who was a homeless child looking for food in the garbage.
  • Retired Gunfighter: Charley was a partisan raider trained to fight behind the lines during the Civil War. Then he became a dreaded hired gun. But for ten years, he has worked as a peaceful cowboy.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Baxter's gang killed Mose and clubbed Button. In retaliation, Charley and Boss wipe out the whole gang, including its leader.
  • Sacrificial Lion: The death of Mose changes the way Boss and Charley behave. Now, protecting the herd and even saving their own lives are secondary. Their primary goal is to avenge his death.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Charley is still haunted by the atrocities he saw and committed during the Civil War.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: When one of the henchmen slowly circles the shack Boss is hiding in, Boss resolves the situation by shooting him through the wall with his shotgun. Of course he is then Blown Across the Room.
  • A Storm Is Coming:
    • In the beginning, Boss notices that a storm is coming. This foreshadows the problems that the cowboys will face soon.
    • Later, when Boss and Charley go to Harmonville for the second time (after the death of Mose), a second storm is coming.
  • There Was a Door: Subverted in a deleted scene:
    [Baxter's henchman tries the sheriff's door, and finds it locked.]
    Henchman: "Door's locked, Mr. Baxter. You want me to break it down?"
    Baxter [stares at him]: "No. You go down to the saloon, get the keys from Bill."
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Tig and Mose.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: Once Baxter is defeated, the formerly passive townspeople hunt down his remaining henchmen and shoot them on the spot.
  • Truth in Television: Fanning is a revolver shooting technique in which one hand holds the trigger and the other hits the revolver hammer repeatedly. This turns the cylinder and hits the firing pin in that order, allowing for 'automatic fire' of a revolver. This technique only works with single action revolvers.
    • However, fanning can damage the revolver's mechanism, and is too inaccurate to hit anything beyond extreme close range. The technique was far more often employed by trick shooters to entertain crowds, than by gunfighters in a shootout.
  • U.S. Marshal: Marshal Poole is a corrupt one.
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out!: When Charley and Boss find Button, who has been wounded by Baxter's henchmen, they first have to get the bullet out, before bringing him to the doctor's.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: There is certainly evidence to support that one of the main reasons Button leaves his sickbed to walk right into the middle of the final gunfight is that he wants to prove his courage and his worth to Boss and Charley. Early scenes in the film establish that he takes criticism from either of them very much to heart. Later, Sue almost Lampshades the fact that Boss is the main Father figure in Button's life and Charley's way of teaching harsh truths casts him as an Aloof Big Brother that Button also desperately wants to earn the respect of.