Sunday, April 10, 2011
The Western Heritage Awards will be held next weekend (April 16) in my hometown of Oklahoma City, at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center (known locally as the Cowboy Hall of Fame). Ed Harris, who has starred in several Westerns, will be on hand as one of the evening’s hosts. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d post a review of his film Appaloosa. On a scale of five stars, I gave the movie four. See below for my thoughts on the great film.
The town of Appaloosa is in need of some serious taming, as arrogant rancher Randall Bragg seems to just do as he pleases. So, the town fathers call in Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch to take care of business, as the town’s new marshals. What starts as a standard western movie premise quickly changes as the arrival of a new woman puts a different dynamic on the situation.
Alright, so even the plot of a tough lawman caught between duty and the woman he loves has been done before, but not quite like this. What makes Appaloosa unique is the morals (or lack of) and character of Mrs. French, and how the tough lawman responds to her.
Appaloosa is a traditional western, with not much revisionism thrown in (and that’s a good thing). Save for a few moments of harsh profanity and one brief scene of partial nudity, this movie could have been made forty years ago. It’s not overly violent, and doesn’t dwell on the gunfights. Instead, this is a character driven western that takes its time, and ends up being one darn good movie.
Ed Harris stars in this film that he also directed. He looks at home in a western, and portrays Marshal Cole with just the right touch. Viggo Mortensen, who portrays Hitch, looks even more natural, as if he is some sort of Frederick Remington painting come to life. Renee Zellweger is obnoxious as the shady Mrs. French, but I believe this to be some of the best acting in the film! The character is supposed to be obnoxious. She’s like one of those villains in some of the old, great westerns: you just can’t stand her! Jeremy Irons does surprisingly well as a wealthy, yet villainous rancher. Mr. Irons is a top notch actor, but on the surface the classically trained Englishman seems like an odd choice to portray an American frontiersman. Still, he pulls it off in a very convincing fashion. And, although he’s only in it for a few moments, Lance Henriksen almost steals the show as gunfighter Ring Shelton. The relationship between Shelton and Cole is very interesting, as it is clear both respect each other’s ability but viewers know an inevitable showdown is looming.
Fans of modern movies might not find much to like in Appaloosa. While never boring, in my opinion, the film is not action packed. It is a throwback to an older generation, when Hollywood didn’t rely on CGI and over the top violence. The first time I watched this movie, I admit, I didn’t care for it too much. I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t one of my favorites. As an avid western fan, I see the few that make their way to the movie theatres with excitement. I think I had built the movie up too much, and it just didn’t live up to the hype I had created. It came not long after the action packed remake of 3:10 to Yuma, and compared to that movie, Appaloosa came across as a bit slow. However, after watching this movie a second time, I appreciated more what Mr. Harris was doing. There are a couple of scenes of good cowboy style shooting. But, again, the action does not take center state. This is a movie making a statement about friendship and loyalty. The second time I watched it, I got it, and I loved it. With wonderful cinematography (and I can’t stress that enough!), great characters, and some truly funny moments, Appaloosa is one fans of classic westerns should enjoy.
Rating: Appaloosa is rated “R” for a few instances of rough language, adult themes, one brief scene of partial nudity, and a bit of violence. The violence is not frequent, but we do see some blood and the affects of a few close range gunshots. Not recommended for children or younger teens.
Note: Appaloosa is based on a novel by the late Robert B. Parker, and the film follows the book very closely. If you like the characters of Cole and Hitch, there are three sequels in the literary cannon. Let’s hope they get filmed as well!