7. Open Range. A wonderful Kevin Costner-directed Western starring Robert Duvall, Abraham Benrubi, Michael Gambon, Annette Bening and Costner himself. As in many classic films in this genre there are several interlocking themes: rugged individualist open range cattlemen vs. greedy ranchers and the corrupt marshal who enforces their will, violence, and even an unexpected lover story. The execution of these themes is very solid, as is the film’s at times spectacular soundtrack.
Recommended Chapters: “Opening Credits/A Rainy Campsite”, “Showdown At The Saloon”, “The Gunfight Begins”, and “The Town Helps Out”.
• Fans of soundtrack realism will be wowed during the opening chapter of Open Range, where we see and hear the advent of a thunderstorm and the ensuing downpour. Near the beginning of the storm, you’ll hear a thunderclap that is so realistic in pitch and dynamics that—if your subwoofer and system are up to the task—it will surely strike real fear in the hearts of most listeners (if you aren’t at least a little startled when the thunderclap arrives, then you need a better sound system). No less impressive, though, is the all-enveloping sound of the rain that follows. The sound, during the storm, should seem immersive in more ways than one (i.e., you should feel, as the characters certainly do, that there’s some possibility that runoff may soon soak through your clothes and swamp the very ground you’re sitting upon).
• “Showdown At the Saloon” Is an important scene in that it prepares the foundation for a relationship between the townspeople and the free-grazers (cattlemen who allow their herds to feed on the open range), Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) and Charlie Waite (Kevin Costner). Again, the scene is set in the middle of a downpour, sound for which is highly realistic, so that we see the protagonists struggling to cross the towns half-flooded Main Street in order to seek shelter in the saloon. But what should be a place of respite and comfort is not, since the barkeeper—who works for the cruel rancher Baxter—refuses to serve the “free-grazers “ and pointedly compares them to “varmints.” Not one to take such baseless insults lightly, Waite promptly discharges both barrels of a shotgun into the mirror behind the bar, bringing all conversation in the saloon to an abrupt halt. “We’ll have our drinks now,” says Waite, who means business. Spearman, sensing that the silence needs to be broken, makes a comment about the weather, saying that if the rain doesn’t let up soon “there’ll be trout fishing right on Main Street.” The light touch of humor does the job, visibly and audibly breaking the icy stillness in the room, and restoring the sense and sound of convivial warmth in a palpable way.
• “The Gunfight Begins” and “The Town Helps Out” are matching halves of an epic, classic, good-guys-versus-bad-guys shootout—the sort that forms the cornerstone of many great Westerns, this one included. Before, during, and after the fight, note how the sound designer intersperses brief moments of relative quiet with the swirling, freewheeling uproar of the gun battles, themselves. One such moment occurs just before the fight starts, as Charlie and Boss, speaking just above whisper levels, tell each other their real names for the very first time, as Charlie puts it, “just in case.” Similarly, the designer lets us hear brief moments of the wind sweeping over the prairie, which helps to underscore just how alone and outnumbered Boss and Charlie are in the face of Baxter’s much larger force. The gun battles sound, as you would expect, appropriately explosive and cacophonous, though there are a few glitches that realism buffs might find objectionable (at one point, for example, Charlie fires ten shots in rapid succession from a “six-shooter,” etc.). Even so, the battle is one my all-time favorites that will get audience members’ hearts racing.
8. The Rundown. An action/adventure comedy film starring Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, and Christopher Walken. In a nutshell, Beck (Dwayne Johnson) is working off a debt by acting as a muscular collections agent for a mobster, sometimes collecting money and at other times collecting the debtors themselves. Beck is tasked with retrieving the mobster’s son Travis (Seann William Scott) from an obscure Brazilian mining town that is ruled by the iron-fisted landowner Hatcher (Christopher Walken). Whether the film is to your tastes or not, there’s no denying that certain sections of its soundtrack are downright spectacular.