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Costner, Duvall Revive Western Genre in <i>Open Range</i>

The American frontier of a century ago and the lives of the cowboys come vividly to life in an exciting new western film co-starring and directed by Kevin Costner.

Robert Duvall is "Boss" Spearman and Kevin Costner plays Charlie Waite: a couple of cowboys just trying to move their herd across the prairie when they run into trouble with a local rancher.

Co-star and director Costner complains that the western genre has strayed from this sort of straightforward, straight shooting story.

"I've seen them. They're costume parties," says Costner. "They wear the floppy hats, get the [beard] growing, get yourself a gun and you've got a western; but that doesn't make a western. I think a western is its language and I am in love with language."

"It's the little things that excited me about Open Range," he says. "You obviously have to get to the gunfight and I'm going to get you there, but I'm going to try to break ground when I get there. I want to break with convention. I want to feel the town empty out. Yes, if there's going to be a fight most people would leave town. You break with convention by having our hero shoot first. But the strength of a great western will always be the little things. It will be the teacups. . . picking up mud... a guy wanting to write out his will... because we suddenly start to see them as us."

Kevin Costner adds "I believe in the literacy of the West. A lot of people have a tendency to think that they are movies with 'yep' and 'nope' and stuff like that, when, in fact, I think they're very Shakespearean. When Boss says 'the way I figure it they can either stampede the herd or you and me can go out there in the dark and get them before they do that to us,' that's a kind of language that's been spoken anywhere that men exist. I can read Shakespeare and I can't understand it, but if I see it performed I understand perfectly and I think people around the world are going to have no mistake when Boss and Charlie are talking because it's language that is understandable when it's performed."

Robert Duvall says some of his favorite roles have been in cowboy stories, notably the TV mini-series Lonesome Dove and now Open Range.

"The American cowboy is an icon throughout the world. It represents something about us: freedom, the West, and so on. It can be romanticized, but there is a reality there," says Duvall. "It was a hard life these guys had to live back then, but it's a symbol of something very American that represents freedom and kind of a romantic thing to people in other parts of the world."

Kevin Costner says Open Range is realistic, but not necessarily authentic; for instance, in a couple of scenes his hero somehow fires a few more than six shots with his six-shooter; but he believes the western hero is a great example to audiences of any era.

"A movie has that wonderful way of highlighting how we wish we would behave when we're confronted by something that, actually, we are not sure how we would. That's the beauty of movies," he says. "I've said before that I play men that are a lot braver than I am [and] a lot smarter than I am; but I feel like I've learned from those movies how I wish I would be and I've always felt that movies have been a guiding force in how to behave."

Open Range also features Annette Bening as the beautiful woman who wins Charlie's heart; English actor Sir Michael Gambon plays the ruthless rancher Baxter. Ironically, to find an Open Range setting as unspoiled as it was in the 1800s, director Kevin Costner had to take his production north to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.