A Brief Musing on “Appaloosa”

The Western genre has been struggling to survive for some years now. 3:10 to Yuma shot some life back into the genre, and The Assassination of Jesse James showed us a Western Art Film is possible and can be beautiful. And then we have Appaloosa.

Viggo Mortensen stars alongside Ed Harris as Everett Hitch and Virgil Cole respectively. The pair are hired guns of sorts. The go to towns in need, get the laws changed to make their operation legal, and proceed to clean up the town. Jeremy Irons plays Randall Bragg, the source of the city’s, for with the film gets its name, problems. Bragg has murdered some deputys with no witnesses, at least willing ones. The duo have been working together for a long time at this venture, and do it fairly well. It wouldn’t be fair to call this a “buddy-Western” film, because what Hitch and Cole share is more than that. This is a film about deep friendship in the vein of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They’ve been friends for years, and nothing will ever come between that. Enter Renée Zellweger as Allison French. She comes to town shortly after the two begin cleaning, and soon catches the eye of Virgil. Soon they’re building a house and planning a life. I don’t want to give the impression that romance is a central theme throughout the film. The entrance of French is analogous to Josephine sparking Wyatt Earp’s interest in Tombstone. The rest of the film plays out fairly predictable for what we’re given at the beginning. Arrest Bragg, Transport Bragg to Jail, uh oh trouble. Its similar to 3:10 to Yuma in that instance. 

The film doesn’t really try to do anything new for the genre. It just takes pieces of old and new Westerns and builds on them. I wouldn’t call it a classic Western because it really doesn’t try to be a typical Western. At one point the expected gun fight occurs and finishes abnormally quick with a remark that, “everyone could shoot.” Ed Harris does a fine job in his second directorial debut, and his acting is always top-notch. Viggo Mortensen fits nicely in his role which I must say is a nice turn around from Hidalgo. Zellweger is… well, I really don’t care for her in anything, but she plays the role with no complaints. The editing seemed very jumpy. One scene jumped quickly to the next scene without any real transition. I’m not sure if it was finished too quickly, or perhaps too much got cut, but it feels awkward at times. I could critique the story, but the characters keep it interesting enough to not really focus on the weak and disjoined plot.

When I left the theater, I really dug this film. However, the more time that passes, the less the film sticks with me. There isn’t anything that really sticks out as memorable or outstanding. Nothing was done horribly wrong in the film. Everyone did their job fine. Being an adaptation, perhaps too much got cut or couldn’t be included. I got the feeling that Everett had a lot more inner dialogue in the book, and it was probably his viewpoint of events past and present that really drove the novel. As it stands, Appaloosa is a worthwhile flick for fans of the aging Western. With such a drought of Westerns, it is hard to properly judge the film on modern merits. It does something different, but not as much as last year’s Assassination of Jesse James. I recommend it to fans of Westerns, Viggo Mortensen, and Ed Harris. Those looking for an action packed film like 3:10 to Yuma need look elsewhere. 8 out of 10.

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