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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.52%
Worth A Look78.26%
Average: 10.87%
Pretty Bad: 4.35%
Total Crap: 0%

5 reviews, 16 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Where Men Were Men And Women Were Whooo-res"
4 stars

The last time Ed Harris and Lance Henriksen saw each other they were on the same team. A group of Mercury astronauts hand picked to beat the Russians into outer space. That was then. The last time Ed Harris saw Viggo Mortensen he was pointing a gun at him. Just before Viggo’s son blew him away and ending his quest to avenge his scarred face. Neither of those films were westerns of course. But that’s the beauty thing about the western. As ingrained as it is in American culture (often referred to as the one genre that is singularly ours) through television and motion pictures, its themes remain the same through B-rolls and the modern counterparts that reflect it’s undying virtues and quests. All three actors are together again now, this time with Harris calling the shots as well as taking them in Appaloosa; an old-fashioned western tale that is as different as it is much the same.

In classic fashion we begin with two gunfighters, only on the right side of the law. They just hire themselves out to enforce it. Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and his trusty righthand, Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) make their way into the town of Appaloosa. Seems their local entrepreneur, Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) is making them a bit jittery. When two of his men were to be taken in by the sheriff, Bragg protected them by killing him and the deputies brought with him. After Cole & Hitch deal with a saloon disturbance in their own lawful fashion, the town elders turn Appaloosa over to their watch permanently. Bragg don’t take too kindly to his men being gunned down and tries to get Sheriff Cole on the same page, but the law is the law and the dividing lines are established.

With the town on the up-and-up while Cole & Hitch keep watch on their porch, along comes piano playin’ Allie French (Renee Zellweger). At first just passing through, Virgil takes an almost schoolboy-like interest in the lass and offers her a job keeping the saloon patrons entertained. No, she’s not a whore; a question he asks straight out, the answer to which only seems to endear him further to her. Everett also takes a shine to her, but almost as if in the true sense of recognizing your best friend saw her first, he keeps what he harbors in check. When one of Bragg’s more tenderfooted men comes forth with eyewitness recollection to the triple homicide, Cole and Hitch bring him in. But if it was a simple journey to the gallows, well then it wouldn’t be a western now would it?

In the Old West stereotypes just came with the territory. You were either a lawman or an outlaw, bartender or drunk, whore or pure Clementine. Outlined in broad strokes, each character in Appaloosa could fit into any one of the particular standards for man or woman; sometimes both at the same time. Each of the film’s relationships also rest along a simple palette but with a brooding interior that draws each closer to another or a longing to find distance from their co-dependent nature. As much as we might be expecting big action set pieces along the lines of last year’s 3:10 To Yuma remake, the shootout body count never matches the violent introductions of our three antagonists. But this is a story about preserving the bonds of partnership, as something worth dying for.

The Cole/Hitch dynamic has a lot of amusement with the classic brains vs. brawn environment. Everett is frequently called upon to dispense with the vocabulary that Cole lacks while reminded that, despite being a more than competent backup, ranks lower on the quickdraw than the best of their opponents. Virgil proves this by pulling the trigger immediately on his feelings for Ms. French, who turns out to be an even bigger adversary than the sinister Bragg. Despite initially played in the atypically sunny Zellweger fashion, her own needs for companionship rival that of Jerry Maguire’s agoraphobical antithesis. Hitch recognizes the hazardous proposition of Cole’s feelings for her but also his partner’s necessity to break away from a past of bloodshed and nighttable women. As more of Allie’s persona is revealed, our expectance of the classic mold to take turns for the worse is diverted (for some, possibly, bewilderingly so) into a manner where human frailties outweighs black-and-white twists and turns.

While Robert B. Parker’s book of the same name is told in first person by Hitch, Harris and co-writer Robert Knott avoid it except, it seems, in a manner to clear up any disorientation for those looking beyond the subtleties of the story. Mortensen narrates an introduction and then as a closing to explicate one character’s choices in the final scenes that’s a bit too Blade Runner-ish for its own good. Similar in setup to the 1959 Richard Widmark/Henry Fonda film, Warlock, but ultimately closer to the introspection of last year’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Appaloosa still has the appeal of the B-westerns any red-blooded American male enjoyed as a kid and don’t get enough of as an adult. The bullets may not be comparable to the Yuma remake or Kevin Costner’s underrated Open Range, but the men holding the guns are still the same. So what if they’re just a little bit different?

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originally posted: 09/19/08 14:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell good western 4 stars
8/21/10 action movie fan w much better carson city and hannie caulder are 2 stars
12/04/09 Madjack Above average. Good actors. Evocative ending. 4 stars
8/02/09 mr.mike "Meep" said it - Western buffs may add a star. 3 stars
7/05/09 Dan Terrific movie, great acting and dialogue, I enjoyed it. 5 stars
2/18/09 Sevarian The "bobcat" is really a cougar or puma--but equally lovely 4 stars
2/17/09 Ry Poor Characters and plot. Disappointing. Watch Tombstone instead. 2 stars
1/20/09 gc great cast, authentic scenery, but the plot just didnt do it for me 3 stars
1/10/09 Anonymous. a good authentic western. 4 stars
1/08/09 Meep Definately worth a look for western fans, likely average for others 4 stars
11/20/08 Colleen H This is one of those movies that makes you appreciate the book. 3 stars
10/22/08 Dan I thought the movie was awesome. There was a very stoic realism admist its themes. 5 stars
10/08/08 damalc disappointing for such an amazing collection of actors 3 stars
10/07/08 BOB B WORTH A LOOK 4 stars
9/23/08 brad miller excellent film (notice I did not say western?) 5 stars
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  19-Sep-2008 (R)
  DVD: 06-Jan-2009


  DVD: 06-Jan-2009

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