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Appaloosa (2008)

by on 2010/06/13

I’ve been having a hankering for a good cowboy film since Hacker Renders bought me the special edition of Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption. Come to think of it, I’ve been saying things like hankering and dropping my g’s since I started playing RDR. But I digress…

You could not ask for a more old-fashioned, straight-arrow cowboy film than this 2008 production directed by and starring Ed Harris. Featuring the always-intriguing Viggo Mortensen, this film is as unvarnished and unpretentious as a tin plate of bacon by a campfire. No camera tricks, no flash backs, no bullet time, no rapid editing, just a plain and simple western tale.

In its 115 minutes run-time, you will see that Appaloosa doesn’t need any tricks:  just two solid performances from Harris, Mortensen, some sturdy horses, a few pistols and a deadly eight gauge. Quiet shots of Ed Harris’ craggy features alone tell a lonesome cowboy tale better than many full-length western films.

Appaloosa is a story of two hired guns brought into town to bring law and order back to the New Mexico town of Appaloosa. Terrorized by an imperious rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) and his murderous band of hired men, the town fathers bring Virgil Cole (Harris) and Everett Hitch (Mortensen) in to stop the random killings, rapes and robbery.

Virgil and Everett are both fast on the draw and could teach the Dog Whisperer a thing or two about managing wild dogs. Both men are studies in the don’t-blink, show-no-fear school of mob management. There’s very little about a gun fight these two don’t know and can‘t face.

The real challenge comes when a simpering little corseted thing by the name of Mrs. Allison French (Renée Zellweger), minces into town. While Jeremy Irons is ostensibly the villain of the piece, the real villain is the faithless, conniving widow who sets her sights on Virgil.

Mrs. French is Deliah to Virgil’s Samson, stripping him of his power, throwing Virgil out of balance during the precarious stand-off with Bragg’s murderous band. Enter fellow hired guns the brothers Shelton (Lance Henriksen and Adam Nelson), and Virgil finds himself off-pace, off-kilter and weak.

The only detractor from the goodness of this film is Zellweger, I found myself frequently wishing she wasn‘t in the film at all. Zellweger is absolutely hateful in this role, her desperate machinations to hang onto Virgil or any other man who comes along to survive are pathetic rather than sympathetic.

All that said, Appaloosa is a shot of bourbon straight from the bottle, in a world of pink blender drinks with rice-paper umbrellas and fruit sculpted into birds of paradise (now in 3-D). I will watch this film again the next time I need a good, honest western.

* * *

Rated R for violence and language

115 minutes

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