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Western with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen

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Traditional, Straight-forward Western that is Both Light and Dark...

  • Jan 19, 2009

I have to say, I have always been a fan of westerns. Honestly, the past few years have been mostly a hit or a miss; some are good, while others always come way short of instant western classics such as "Unforgiven" and "Tombstone". With the recent releases such as "3:10 To Yuma" and "The Assassination of Jesse James" in the U.S., even Asian filmmakers have gotten into the western bandwagon with "Sukiyaki Western Django" from Japan and " The Good, the Bad and the Weird" from Korea--seems like westerns are making a comeback. "APPALOOSA" is the most recent western entry based on a novel by Robert B. Parker and directed by Ed Harris who also plays the lead role along with a very stellar cast. Such a film demands attention, and "Appaloosa" doesn't disappoint.

1882 in the U.S. Mexican territory, two hard cases named Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) have been summoned to Appaloosa because they get the job done and they are the best at what they do--they keep the peace even if it meant creating laws to do it. After the supposed disappearance of the previous town marshal and his two deputies, Cole and Hitch have been hired by desperate town leaders who sign over the town in a matter of minutes. The culprit is a wealthy rancher named Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), who has his band of enforcers and who has been stirring up trouble in the small town. Cole and Hitch are set on a collision course with Bragg's band of hired guns, and to make things much more complicated for Cole, the arrival of Allison French (Renee Zellweger) and this enigmatic woman may be destined to change their lives forever.

The film does have the usual elements of gunplay, friendship and camaraderie, but it also gives a quick look at sacrifice and the means to survive during these dangerous times. Thankfully, this is no sappy love triangle with Hitch, Cole and Allison, otherwise, I wouldn't waste my time. The film does serve up an effective study of the film's situation and harsh times. While much of it is expressed around Cole and Allison's relationship (or lack there of), the relationship between Hitch and Cole is also explored. The time of their partnership is unspecified, but it is a very long time, their partnership had become friendship. Randall Bragg may represent the ultimate opportunist and represents the unfairness of politics while the brothers Ring and Mackie Shelton (Lance Henriksen and Adam Nelson respectively) is the exact opposite of Hitch and Cole. All in all, these folks are doing what they can to survive.

The film's pace is a little slow-moving and for a film with a 115 minute run time, it does feel longer. The direction does have a curiously episodic feel and seemed divided into 3 acts. But this is not a negative comment, since Harris' direction does manage to keep the screenplay interesting and the proceedings did flow nicely. The cinematography is quite impressive as the viewer is given quite a view of its western backdrop (shot mostly in New Mexico) and the costumes look pretty nifty and accurate. "Appaloosa" does feel like a contemporary western, that reveres its genre.

While the film does carry the usual cowboy trappings, the characters are quite compelling. I think the lack of a solid background for its lead characters proved to be an advantage since it maintains some hints of an enigma and the viewer gets to know each one as the film goes along. Harris does manage to flesh them out in a methodical way to favor certain habits, peculiar to each character, that strengthens their actions and reactions, which promotes emotion and serves up characters that breath and their body language says a lot about them. There are also some nicely placed touches of humor with Cole's interactions, whenever he finds himself grasping for the right word.

While the film does have its share of gunfights, which are shot realistically, there aren‘t a lot of them. But to its credit, they are nicely executed and kept me guessing as to who would survive that encounter. The film also manages to be a little unpredictable and the closing act does reinforce all the characteristics we've been privy to. It's a good credible pay off and it kept me on my toes, despite its somewhat slow-moving pace.

The performances of its cast is real good and matches Harris‘ great direction.There is strong chemistry between Mortensen and Harris and they seem to be in familiar territory, they did have some practice working together in the film "A History of Violence" and the two has all the dynamics needed to pull it off. Renee Zellweger is an excellent actress although I have to admit this is not her best role to display her talents, but she does make the most out of what she's got on her plate. Irons is the bad guy and well…he's very bad. Our "heroes" wouldn't be much if weren't for a good villain. The actors are indeed the right people for the right job.

The film's greatest strength is its simplicity and its respect for the western tradition is refreshingly cool. If you're expecting a "shoot-them-up" western then you're more than likely may become disappointed. However, it's slow-moving, but never dull screenplay does pay off and I think "Appaloosa" is a fine addition to the list of western films which stayed true to its traditions and style. Its simplicity is embodied in a tone that is very familiar to fans, realistic doses of violence with a warm, thought-provoking statement.

Highly Recommended! [4 Stars]

The Dvd does sport a great picture and sound quality. The picture is clean although there are some noise in some scenes especially in the dark scenes. The colors are a little muted but they look natural. The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is fitting for this type of film.

Ed Harris as Cole Viggo Mortensen as Hitch Jeremy Irons as Randall Bragg scene scene by train

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July 17, 2010
Yeah man I liked this one as well, I need to have another western night or something. Excellent review
April 12, 2009
VERY well done review! However, I tried (keyword: TRIED) to watch this last night and after 1 1/2 hours, I gave up and went to bed. You're right that it is beautifully shot, but I can't agree about it being "slow-moving but never dull." I thought that most of the movie was slow-moving AND dull, but I'm going to watch the rest of it before I write my own review.
April 12, 2009
LOL! Give it a shot, Sheri. Sometimes we have to be in a certain mood for certain films. Thank you for the read.
April 12, 2009
I absolutely agree that the mood we're in can make a particular movie more or less entertaining. I initially was going to watch "Milk" last night but chose Appaloosa. Maybe it was more of a Milk mood night. hehe
March 24, 2009
This was a really good movie- my favorite western is Tombstone the version with Val Kilmer!
March 24, 2009
Thanks! I do love "Tombstone" despite its historical inaccuracies. Did you like "Wyatt Earp"?
January 28, 2009
Hey, DesignDude, thanks for the read and happy you enjoyed the review. I do hope that westerns are making a full comeback--I do love me a good shoot 'em up, but character driven films always earn extra points.
January 21, 2009
Thanks for your help, Rache! I couldn't have done it without your help! QueenB, you're not the only one--sadly it was only the town's name. That is some pretty interesting info. Just what breed was SeaBiscuit? that horse was pretty small.
January 20, 2009
I was fantasizing that it was about a horse since the appaloosa ia a breed. I knew better of course, but I was still kind of hoping. Here's an aside that's interesting only to me; Secretariat was bred first to an appaloosa mare in order to prove that he was a viable stud. The resulting colt grew to 17 hands in height which was a full half a hand taller than his sire Big Red!
January 19, 2009
Thanks for the read, Dan, glad you enjoyed the review. This is pretty good and the gunfights are realistic--short but very realistic. OK Corral was like 40 seconds I've read.
January 19, 2009
Great Review. This was on the list of movies that we were thinking about renting and you sold me. Thanks.
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William ()
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Product Description
In Marshal Virgil Cole and deputy Everett Hitchs line of work, you shoot quick, you shoot clean, and you reload straightaway. No remorse. No looking back. No feelings. Feelings get you killed. Paired as rivals in A History of Violence, Ed Harris (who also directs, produces and co-scripts) and Viggo Mortensen stand together as longtime friends and for-hire peacekeepers Cole and Hitch in this character-driven, bullet-hard Western based on Robert B. Parkers novel. Blood will spill in the town called Appaloosa.
(From Amazon)

Based on the novel by Robert B. Parker
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Director: Ed Harris
Genre: Western
Release Date: 2008
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: Janurary 13, 2009
Runtime: 115 Minutes
Studio: New Line Cinema
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