Ed Harris writes, directs and stars in Appaloosa, an old-school western that epitomizes the genre just a bit too much. Viggo Mortensen, Jeremy Irons and Renee Zellweger also star in the well-reviewed picture.
Appaloosa follows Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, played by Harris and Mortensen respectively, two lawmen-for-hire who arrive at a small town (guess its name!) in desperate need of law enforcement. With their three lawmen missing and presumed dead, the city has fallen victim to a sleazy cattle herder named Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), whose legion of men steal, rape and pillage at will. Cole and Hitch immediately put their foot down, but tensions run high, even after Bragg is convicted of murder.
For the record, I love westerns, or at least westerns made in the last couple of decades. If done right, a western can hearken back to the days of old while injecting a modern sense of action and drama. Interestingly, Harris take a different angle with his direction; in complete contrast to last year's 3:10 to Yuma, the direction here is intentionally basic and simple. The movie feels like a western of old, at least in terms of appearance, and this works. To some degree. Beyond that, I won't say the direction was anything amazing.
As far as screenplays go, Appaloosa, co-written by Robert Knott and based on a book by Robert B. Parker, is pretty impressive. Aided by strong performances by the two leads, the screenplay develops good chemistry between Cole and Hitch. The movie doesn't shy away from humor, and despite its rather dry look and feel, the character dynamics are anything but. The screenplay is the strongest part of the movie.
Unfortunately, the movie itself is rather boring. The first half of the movie is pretty good, and Harris teases us with a few exciting paths the movie could have taken (specifically with a certain hostage situation). Unfortunately, the second half just drags on with very little action and a lot of dull plot points. I am perfectly fine with a western that has very little action, but it better deliver in the end. Appaloosa has very little action, and the action that it does have is pretty disappointing. We are subjected to a couple rather cliche stand-off sequences, many of which don't make much sense. Appaloosa was set up to have a great finale between the two lawmen and Bragg's legion of gunfighters, but... this was not the case. Poo.
Oh, and Appaloosa continues to confirm my opinion that Renee Zellweger is one of the most overrated actresses in the business.
Appaloosa is not a poorly made film, and in fact it has a lot going for it, but ultimately it is a disappointing and dull western. Recommended only to big fans of the western genre.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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