Brilliant cinematography & costumes, but a weak plot
Mar 9, 2009
I like Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris a lot. They're always involved in great films; the same can be said for Jeremy Irons, who always gives a strong performance (and isn't getting enough work as of late, in my opinion). I had very high hopes for Appaloosa, but they were not entirely satisfied. I can certainly recommend it to people, but should probably fill you in on what to expect.
First and foremost, the cinematography is outstanding. Each and every shot looks incredible; the locations and sets fit the movie perfectly. It's obvious that some real effort went into this. The film itself isn't overly grainy or tinkered with -- colors are very natural and lifelike. On Blu-ray (the medium in which I saw it), the picture quality was among the best. I have been disappointed with certain Blu-ray masters, but this one is stellar.
Additionally, I enjoyed the costuming and makeup. Ed Harris' outfits are particularly nice, looking very authentic and suiting his character well. Viggo and Jeremy look at-home in their outfits, and have the right hairstyles. Westerns are usually a yawn-fest for me when it comes to costumes, as they typically go for the cliche "stirrups and leather pants with a revolver" look, but Appaloosa took the high road and gave actirs costumes that match the character. Renee Zellwegger looks great in the film with her red hair; a new look for her that suits her well. Appaloosa really conveys a strong sense of "the old west" through this outstanding filming and costuming.
The plot, of course, is what everyone seems to care about. In this sense, I liked the overall premise, but wasn't too keen on execution. The movie gets right into the action and sets the plot in motion immediately -- no background is really given to Harris/Mortensen/Irons' characters; in a matter of 30 seconds we are just told who each character is and why they're important. The viewer is not allowed to form any sort of opinion, nor deduce for themselves just who is "the bad guy". I didn't like this approach. The movie begins too quickly and then seems to resolve itself by the halfway point. The final half of the movie had me wondering why I was still watching, as it barely added anything new.
Appaloosa's plot could have been stellar had it followed a more traditional approach. Instead, it confuses you by ending about 45 minutes in and leaving you twiddling your thumbs for the remaining hour.
Ed Harris, as always, gives a strong performance as the marshal. He's gritty and tough, but has a dry sense of humor that really gives some great chuckles throughout the film. He's a bit sarcastic and blunt, often reminding Jeremy Irons that there's a very large shotgun pointed at him by someone who has the authority to put one in his chest. Viggo, playing his deputy, has a similar sarcastic sense of humor. He, on the other hand, comes off as "the quiet guy" who just walks around with an 8-gauge shotgun. The minor characters are obviously afraid of him since he never says or does much.
Jeremy Irons plays a confident villain that "you love to hate". He's just a really mean guy who uses his confidence to instill fear. I think what made his performance in this film is the perfect timing for all his facial expressions. He takes the necessary pauses, gives the right glances, and almost conveys a sense of boredom and contempt towards Ed Harris.
Renee Zellwegger is probably the only actor whose performance is forgettable. That's not to say she disappoints, but it's not as strong as the leading men in the movie. I think this is due in part to a weak definition to her character. She is also not given much of a background, and is just thrust into the movie.
One last final note -- the DVD & Blu-ray mastering of this movie is strong in terms of picture quality (a consistently high bitrate), but the audio mix falls short. I never saw this in theatres so it could be poor audio editing at the studio as well. The soundstage is absolutely terrible for a modern movie. The cinematography immerses you in the film, but the soundtrack does not...no ambient noise, no surround effects, and all the dialogue is flat.
I still liked Appaloosa despite the weak plot execution and poor audio mixing. The acting is top-notch and the scenes are filmed beautifully.
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 … more
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)