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Movie Review: Appaloosa

Appaloosa: Solid Entertainment But Could Have Been More

Appaloosa is a totally passable and — to my surprise — fun (and funny) Western movie. I'm amazed Ed Harris, the star/director/co-writer of the film, hasn't played more gunslingers, because his face was built for it. Under the shadow of a wide-brimmed hat, his skin looks believably weathered and creased, his bone structure sturdy and chiseled. By contrast, Harris's costar, Viggo Mortensen, is not what I think of when I think "cowboy." He's long and lean and hardly recognizable under a strange (but probably historically accurate) haircut and facial hair. His character drags around one of those giant long-barreled shotguns as opposed to expertly twirling a smaller one out of his holster.

The pair make a fine acting duo; they have an easy chemistry I could watch all night long. Beyond that, Appaloosa tells a well-thought-out story. But unlike Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven or last year's remake of 3:10 to Yuma, there is no new cinematic ground being broken here. For the most part, it's simply a traditional Western, which — depending on your outlook — can either be a great way to spend a night at the movies or a teensy bit disappointing. To see what I mean, just


Harris plays Virgil Cole, a man who makes a living off the lawless frontier by helping out towns overrun with criminal activity. When we first meet Virgil and his deputy, Everett Hitch (Mortensen), it's clear the two men have known each other for a while; they're the Old West dude-equivalent of BFFs. They can read each other's body language, complete each other's sentences, and are committed to having each other's backs. It's touching and pretty cute without ever being silly. Not even the charms of a new gal in town, Allie French (Renee Zellweger), can shake up the loyalty between the friends.

They arrive in Appaloosa, New Mexico, at the request of the business leaders there to help rid the town of a criminal menace named Randall Bragg (played by Jeremy Irons, sporting a strange American accent). Irons plays evil eloquently, and it suits his character well, but it's hard to get over seeing him in cowboy boots in this dusty town. Physically, he doesn't move like the others; it's hard to tell if this is inspired casting or just weird. Anyway, Virgil, in order to get the job done, declares himself the top law dog, and from there the stage is set for a showdown of some sort in a coral.

To Harris's credit, what could have been a totally predicable movie is not. Zellweger's Allie is one of the most interesting, complicated female characters I've seen in the genre, and just when you think you know the outcome of a given scene, the plot twists and turns in unexpected ways. To that end, it's a great ride. On the negative side, lots of little moments wrapped up in those twists are never really explored or given much weight. There's a moment near the beginning when all the fun cowboy stuff abruptly ends and Harris's character beats the crap out of someone for no good reason. We've warmed up to the guy only to learn he's a live wire with an ambiguous sense of justice. It's intriguing but glossed over. Digging in to his psyche is the kind of thing that could have made this movie great, but as it is, it's just a darn good story come to life by darn good actors.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

nimue nimue 9 years
I'd see this just for viggo!
HeidiMD HeidiMD 9 years
I just saw this last night, and both my fiance and I really liked it. It was full of subtlety, and I liked that certain parts of each character were open to interpretation. It wasn't at all like I expected, but that was a good thing! Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen have an amazing chemistry together.
fleurfairy fleurfairy 9 years
The only western I ever liked was 3:10 to Yuma. That movie is amazing.
Entertainment Entertainment 9 years
Sorry CaterpillarGirl, Viggo only bares his chest but it's still a sexy moment.
HeidiMD HeidiMD 9 years
I can't wait to see this! I love Westerns -- crappy, just bad, great, or amazing. They have been my favorite movies forever.
Allyace Allyace 9 years
When I was younger I hated westerns. Thought they were all the same and boring, but then I took a film class that was all about Westerns (not sure why other than I needed the film credits). Now I love them. There is so much history in them and if you watch a lot of them from different periods of time you can see how our nation evolves. Good stuff. That said I love love love Clint Eastwood and Unforgiven and 3:10 to Yuma was visually stunning. I'll definitely be checking this one out and hope it is good. I have a lot of respect for Ed Harris, so I'm sure it is at least entertaining.
Phasekitty Phasekitty 9 years
Such a good, classic western- I loved it. Also, it was a perfect adaptation of the book.
ilanac13 ilanac13 9 years
i've never had much of an interest in this type of movie, and i'm kind of tired of renee, so chances are i'm not going to go out of my way to check it out. oh well.
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 9 years
I will only see it if Viggo gets naked.
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
my bf really wants to see this so we'll probably check it out. This didn't look super interesting to me, and Zellweger usually irritates me, but if there's some plot twists maybe it won't be too bad
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