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Film / Open Range

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A 2003 western film directed by and starring Kevin Costner. 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.

But 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.


This film provides examples of:

  • Armor-Piercing Slap: Delivered by Sue to the corrupt town marshal in the middle of the final show down.
    "You're a disgrace, Marshal Poole! [smack] You always have been!"
    "I know it. That's just the way it is..."
  • 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.)
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  • 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 occasion, Charley fires a lot of 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 Moses, setting off the events of the movie, and leaving several of them heavily injured.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Cowboy: Working
  • The Dragon: Butler
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Boss's first name is Bluebonnet. You can't blame him for going by "Boss."
  • 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 show down towards the end of the scene is shown with a revolver in both hands.
  • 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.
  • The Lancer: Charley, to Boss.
  • Morality Pet: In some ways, Button (and to some extent, his other friends as well) are this for Charley.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • "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.