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Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris star with Academy Award winner Renée Zellweger as two gunmen tracking an escaped murderer and a beautiful, dangerous widow with an agenda of her own whose paths collide in the lawless western town of Appaloosa. When Virgil Cole (Harris--A History of Violence) and Everett Hitch (Mortensen--A History of Violence, The Lord of the Rings films) arrive in Appaloosa, they find a small, dusty town suffering at the hands of a renegade rancher with so little regard for the law that he has taken supplies, horse and women for his own and left the city marshal and one of his deputies for dead. Cole and Hitch, itinerant lawmen, are used to cleaning up after opportunistic thieves, but this time they find an unusually wily adversary--one who raises the stakes not by playing with the rules, but with emotions.]]>
The Western has been an endangered species, on and off, for something like 40 years now. Welcome to Appaloosa, Ed Harris's film of the Robert B. Parker novel--first because it exists at all, but even more because Harris as star, director, and co-screenwriter (with Robert Knott) has managed to bring it to the screen with no hint of fuss or strain, as if the making of no-nonsense, copiously pleasurable Westerns were still something Hollywood did with regularity. Harris plays Virgil Cole, one of those ace gunfighter-lawmen whose name need only be mentioned to make a saloon go still. Cole and his shotgun-toting partner Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) accept a commission to enforce law and order in the New Mexico town of Appaloosa. That basically means protect it from rapacious rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons, looking right at home on the range), who murdered the previous town marshal like swatting a fly. Life becomes complicated when, about the time Bragg has been jailed to await trial, a fancy-dressing piano player calling herself Mrs. French (Renée Zellweger) steps down off the train. Cole commences to have feelings, and as he ruefully reminds Hitch, "Feelin's can get ya killed."
In his second directorial effort (following the 2000 biopic Pollock), Harris takes his cue from novelist Parker's often deadpan-comic touch, allowing action and character to accumulate in accordance with an overall eccentric rhythm. (The film's main disappointment is that it would benefit from more running time to allow things to stew a bit longer, especially in the second half.) The character work is choice, from the moment Tom Bower, James Gammon, and Timothy Spall step into view as Appaloosa's civic leaders; the director's father Bob Harris contributes a cameo as a mellifluous-tongued circuit judge, and an age-thickened Lance Henriksen turns up midfilm as gunman Ring Shelton, trailing affability and menace. In collaboration with Dances With Wolves cameraman Dean Semler, Harris sets up shots and scenes in such a way that we often see into and out of Appaloosa's various buildings simultaneously, to excellent dramatic and atmospheric effect, and there's a thrillingly vertical dynamics to a scene involving a train at an isolated water stop. The action is lethal when it needs to be, but never dwelt upon. "That was over quick," Hitch observes after one gun battle. Cole's response says it all: "Everybody could shoot." --Richard T. Jameson
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Top customer reviews
In a time when there are all kinds of remakes this one was original-ish. The book was written by Robert Parker of the"Spenser for Hire" series of books.
Rene Zellwiger is dreadful, but besides that it was a damned good movie. I lose patience with the casting of a Brit as the bad guy in the western but Jeremy Irons is so easy to hate it was alright.
Viggo kills it. If you like westerns you'll like this one.
Lacking any hint of artificiality, nostalgia, cliché antiheroes or political correctness, "Appaloosa" feels authentic to the point I suspect that this was how it may have been to watch Western films during the genre's golden age of the 40's and 50's. :o)