LoserPoet Cinema: Appaloosa

October 08, 2008 | Comments (0) | by Arcturus


I'm a big fan of Westerns and I had already read the book, so this was a no-brainer for me. I was further intrigued when I read that Ed Harris had fallen in love with the book while on vacation and had immediately purchased the rights. In my estimation, Ed Harris is one of the most underrated actors out there and I had high hopes for the movie when I learned of his involvement. I wasn't disappointed.

The story is familiar to most fans of the genre. Rancher Randall Bragg, played with cold charm by Jeremy Irons, believes he and his men are above the law. They take food and supplies from the town of Appaloosa and create a general atmosphere of terror. Enter Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, travelling lawmen hired by the town to deal with Bragg and his henchman who have disposed of the town's previous sheriff. Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are excellent in the roles of Cole and Hitch, capturing perfectly the complex friendship and loyalty between the two men. They institute a new set of laws and proceed to enforce them, much to the chagrin of Bragg, his men, and the town fathers alike.

Complicating matters is the arrival of a piano playing widow, Alison French, played by Renee Zellweger. She takes a fancy to Cole and the feeling is mutual. Alison has issues of her own, however, chiefly the need to be with whatever man she perceives to be the alpha male. This leads to problems later in the film.

The film deftly moves between Cole and Hitch's efforts to bring Bragg to justice and Cole's burgeoning relationship with Ally. The two plots come together in an unexpected fashion and lead directly to the resolution of the film.

The movie is dialog driven and moves slow in places, but it never seems ponderous. The relationship between Cole and Hitch drives the film. Their loyalty and deep bond for one another is something that Robert Parker has always been adept at creating and Harris wisely showcases these elements in his screenplay and direction. Harris's director's eye is impeccable, making use of classic western imagery. The attention to detail is impressive, as weapons, clothing, and setting appear authentic to the times. The violence in the movie comes in quick brutal spurts, very realistically portrayed.

I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, just as I had the novel. The characters act and talk the way you wish you could in real life. The casting was great and even Renee Zellweger held her own. (I was especially pleased to find that Lance Henriksen was cast as a hired gun employed by Bragg.) Ed Harris does a remarkable job as Cole, a cold man with few social graces, struggling with his feelings for Ally, driven to defeat Bragg and enforce his law. When he's violent it is without remorse. Mortensen is equally as good as Hitch, a more emotional man, who sees the darkness in Cole, but doesn't have it himself. As I said before, their dynamic makes the film work. This is a western in the tradition of Unforgiven and Tombstone, maybe not quite as good as those two films, but it's damn close. Even though I knew what was coming, it was still stirring to see the action played out on the screen. The movie's ending is elegant, holding true to the code that the two main characters have forged.

Badass Moments: Any time Virgil Cole uses a gun is pretty damn badass, but at one point, Cole and Hitch are having a conversation with two of Bragg's henchman on the ridge overlooking the town. Cole busts one of the men across the face with his pistol and when the man complains about his broken face, Cole's response is: "Colt does make a heavy firearm."

Whenever Mortensen appears on screen, he is generally carrying an 8 gauge shotgun bigger than Carlos Zambrano's polla. The size of the weapon alone is completely fucking awesome.

Thunder Matt Rating: 4.5 big-ass shotgun shells out of 5

See It If You Like: Unforgiven, Tombstone, bros before hoes, gunfights, Renee Zellweger's pale ass, mustaches (Viggo's is completely righteous), killer dialog, male bonding