Ed Harris directs another solid entry into the new era of Westerns and it fits right in with 3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James in terms of both quality and entertainment.
Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) is a well to do entrepreneur and gang leader in the New Mexico Territory and he is confronted by a Marshall and his deputies with the need to arrest a couple of his men for the rape and murder of a couple in the town of Appaloosa. After Bragg displays his inability to part with his men, he shoots the Marshall and Deputies dead when they try to apprehend his men, and that is where our story begins.
The town of Appaloosa turns to a pair of gun men, Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), who have a reputation of turning around a town over run by an unruly gang. Virgil promises to clean up the town and bring down Bragg to the board of the town and he wastes no time doing so. Just as the pair roles into town, so does a sweet looking lady in Ally French (Renée Zellweger) who clicks with Virgil over coffee and lunch at the local restaurant. The courtship escalates quickly and the move fairly fast to the surprise of Everett and I think even Virgil. While the three warm up to one another, a break in the Bragg case falls into Virgil and Everett’s laps and they make their move.
I will share no more, but the plot is full of twists and turns and is never predictable. In fact, the film is very unconventional from start to finish, you never really get a grasp on what is going to happen next, and I found myself thinking I had the plot figured out and it constantly surprised me. Harris does a nice job of passing and keeps the film moving forward always, rarely wasting a frame. The chemistry he gets out of himself and Viggo is fantastic as well, and they are just a blast to watch and you feel like these guys have been great friends forever.
Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen’s acting abilities sell their relationship and it is what really makes this film so enjoyable. Neither one of them is just a straight badass, they are both tough, but they have layers to them though we still never doubt them in the moment. They bounce back and forth off one another with ease, and provide plenty of humor throughout the picture. Viggo takes the cake as top notch though I feel, but that is to be expected; though he doesn’t over shadow Irons or Harris who are just nipping at his heals. Irons makes Bragg an interesting villain, selling him as smart and sophisticated who is just as likely to fleece your money as he is to shoot you dead. It would have nice to see a bit more crime and anarchy created by his gang but as it stands it still works out just fine. Zellweger has some fun in her role, as Ally isn’t just a sweet damsel in distress, but she doesn’t stand out like the rest of the cast, though she does a fine job still on her own.
Speaking of the Alley character, the plot revolving around her is a bit unexpected, and kind of dumbfounding for a while, but trust me, one scene sums it up, and shows that everyone gets it and it becomes kind of a joke throughout the rest of the film. Also, if you are looking for a guns a blazing western, this is not it; there are a couple of shoot outs, but nothing big or drawn out. The shoot outs are very quick and real, and Virgil has a line that sums up the action in this film perfectly in the later part of the picture. Though, don’t let the lack of gunfights dishearten, as there is plenty of tension and suspense mixed with great character work and humor that keeps this film going; the relationship is also akin to Butch and Sundance it works so well.
Appaloosa is one of the better films of the year while continuing to prove that the Western is not a dead genre. I hope we continue to get one or two a year and that they are made at the level of quality of this and the other recent entries have been made. If you are a fan of the western get out and see this great flick, it will grow on you as you think about it, and will definitely make you want to see it again.