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Ride 'em Costner

‘Open Range’ is an old-fashioned oater; ‘Le Divorce’ has the pedigree, but doesn't pay off. By Michael Ventre
/ Source: contributor

“Open Range”The days of the “aw, shucks” Western have gone the way of the stagecoach. Since Clint Eastwood did his so-called revisionist oater in 1992, the masterpiece that is “Unforgiven,” it seemed doubtful that anyone would try to mount a Western that features a Gary Cooper type, hat in hand, stammering with shyness, trying to ask the schoolmarm out for a sarsaparilla.

But those are the kinds of pictures Kevin Costner and producer David Valdes (who also produced both “Unforgiven” and “Pale Rider”) apparently grew up on, and “Open Range” is an admirable homage to those less cynical times, when the good guys wore white hats, the bad guys black, and the landscape stretched for miles without nary a cowpoke to be seen.

Costner directs a story about freegrazers, those cowboys who herded cattle across the plains and let them nibble wherever they pleased. Naturally, this upset some of the local land owners, who, before the days of barbed wire fences, sent emissaries of evil out to convince such trespassers to mosey on or else.

Costner plays Charley Waite, Robert Duvall is Boss Spearman, and naturally, they both have a past. Annette Bening is Sue Barlow, the local doctor’s sister, who develops a thing with Costner and has to practically lasso, hog-tie and brand him in order to get him to express his feelings for her.

Sometimes the sincerity is a bit much to handle. In these modern times, when edginess rules and the complex antihero is far more commonplace than the simple man with a clear sense of right and wrong, audiences aren’t used to such straightforward portrayals and situations, and the results can be somewhat hard to swallow.

But Costner’s strength here is building the conflict between his side and that of Baxter the land baron, played by Michael Gambon. The resulting action sequences are expertly done and entertaining.

The DVD is a two-disk package. On Disc One is the feature and a serviceable audio commentary by Costner, who, you’ll recall, won a Best Director Oscar for “Dances With Wolves” in 1990. Disk Two has all the other extras, including a Costner-narrated history lesson, “America’s Open Range.” There are also deleted scenes.

If you’re the type who has seen “High Noon” and “Shane” more than 10 times apiece, then you ought to see this once.

Check out this special feature: There is a piece called “Beyond ‘Open Range’ Director’s Journal,” which provides some insight into the development of this project, from casting to location scouting to development of the screenplay to the building of an entire town in Calgary. It was an independent film, and Costner goes off at the beginning of this feature on certain charlatans who promised to finance the movie but only led him along. The rest isn’t nearly as provocative as that, but it’s still enjoyable.

Touchstone Home Entertainment, $29.99

Fox Home Entertainment

“Le Divorce” has the pedigree of a classy winner. It stars Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts as American sisters prowling around Paris. It springs from the highbrow imaginations of longtime producing team Ismail Merchant and James Ivory (“The Remains of the Day,” among many others). It also features a top-notch supporting cast led by Stockard Channing, Glenn Close, Matthew Modine, Sam Waterston, Bebe Neuwirth and Leslie Caron.

But the story is stuck in a netherworld of tone. The gorgeous backdrop fails to bring life to a limp, lifeless script. This is purportedly a romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor funny.

Part of the problem is some iffy casting. A key story point involves Watts’ character, the pregnant Roxanne, and her cheating husband, Charles-Henri (played by Melvil Poupaud). But Poupaud is miscast, bearing no qualities that would make you ever believe Watts would want to spend five minutes with him, let alone sign up for marriage. That’s a major flaw, since the entire picture revolves around this one pairing.

And then there is Modine’s character. He is so one-dimensionally drawn as crazy-jealous that what happens late in the film is of no surprise to anyone. You wonder why French law enforcement didn’t have a stakeout on this guy from the start of the movie.

Not surprisingly, the DVD has nothing really to offer, either. There are no extras to speak of, unless you count the inclusion of full and widescreen versions. Whoopee. And there are three language tracks, so you can be bored in English, Spanish and French.

I’m sure all the actors involved heard “Merchant-Ivory” and signed on without hesitation. But this is a waste of their talents. Watts especially is one of the finest actresses working today. But expecting her to resuscitate this is like trying to put bubbles back into flat champagne.

20th Century Fox, $27.98