- We can't have our law officers beatin' people half to death for no reason. 10/3/2010 12:00:00 AM by Spikeopath
Appaloosa is based on the 2005 novel of the same name written by Robert B. Parker. It's directed by Ed Harris, who also co-writes the story with Robert Knott. Harris also stars alongside Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger, Jeremy Irons & Lance Henriksen. Music is by Jeff Beal and Dean Semler provides cinematography on location in Albuquerque, Austin and Santa Fe.
Appaloosa is in the grip of bully boy rancher Randall Bragg (Irons), who finally oversteps the mark when the latest Marshall and his deputies are killed in cold blood. The townsfolk decide enough is enough and hire no nonsense travelling lawmen Virgil Cole (Harris) and his sidekick Everett Hitch (Mortensen) to protect and serve the town. Ruling with a rod of iron, Cole & Hitch start to bring order to Appaloosa, but the arrival in town of pretty Allie French (Zellweger) causes quite a stir between the two men. Bad timing too since the guys are trying to get Bragg to his rightful execution.
In the modern era the Western has been the hardest genre for film makers to tackle. You can probably count on one hand the number of great or agreeable ones that have surfaced post Costner and Eastwood's efforts of 1990 and 1992 respectively. Enter Ed Harris, who undaunted by the long odds of getting a Western to be successful; and suffering worrying overtures from his backers at New Line Cinema, got Appaloosa made. Well made as it happens.
Since the story itself is etched like the Wyatt Earp legend, there's really no fresh perspective on offer here. In fact, anyone familiar with Edward Dmytryk's excellent Warlock from 1959 will feel some narrative déjà vu. But Appaloosa does have strong performances and lush landscapes to see it successfully home. Slotting in a good helping of action, romance and humour also goes some way to making Harris' movie a worthy modern day Oater. True, the cliche's are many, but Harris wasn't after revisionism, he wanted (and got) old fashioned Oater values. A film that follows those old beloved B movie Western conventions, but one that still retains a topical criminal thread.
The best reward in the film comes from spending time with Harris & Mortensen. Their characters are nicely drawn and not over cooked by the script. Cole & Hitch are devoted to each other, lots of straight love and respect exists between the two men. Their bond is believably brought to life by Harris & Mortensen, who formed a friendship when making A History Of Violence for David Cronenberg in 2005. Zellweger and Irons too are not without high merit value. She (stepping in when Diane Lane walked over delays), is pleasing and captivates in what is the critical glue role. While he is dandy dastardly supreme, a well spoken villain of much intelligence and crafty as a cat.
Appaloosa is a subtle film, both in story and as a technical production. Beal's score is unobtrusive, while Semler's photography manages to deliver that old fashioned feel that Harris was after (the low lighting for the interiors is particularly on the money) . Harris' direction is smooth and unhurried in pace, with the odd inspired bit thrown in for good measure (check out the up-tilt camera work during a train on a bridge sequence). While the production design can't be faulted. All that and you got the likes of Henriksen and Timothy Spall in the support cast too. A lovely film that is as tight as the friendship at its core. 7.5/10
- A Real Western 10/2/2008 12:00:00 AM by Stamp-3
I saw Appaloosa last night. Absolutely fantastic. Whether it is because he is a bit older I don't know, but Ed Harris obviously actually understands westerns.
A straightforward western tale with very little revisionism, with real men doing "what men have to do". The sense of space, the wish to be part of civilization, the bad men resisting that encroachment, the sense of the mythic; it was all there.
A little bit more modern in approach than a classic 50's tale, particularly in how Renée Zellwegger's character developed, but a real story nevertheless; good guys, bad guys. Jeremy Irons is very good as the baddie. Timothy Spall is good comic relief and Ed Harris and Vigo Mortensen a terrific pair, carefully nurturing their relationship while understanding exactly what they have to do.
The pace was very good, allowing the story and character to develop properly. Even so, it could have and should have been shorter - John Ford, or more likely Anthony Mann would have got through this story in about 90 minutes, but very satisfying nevertheless.
Costner did a pretty good job on Open Range (that was really miles too long), 3:10 to Yuma was pathetic (why they bothered to remake it when the makers so totally misunderstood the thrust of the original I will never know).
But this was the real deal, or at least as near to the real deal as we are ever likely to get nowadays. Too bad it will disappear without a trace.
- Superb! 10/4/2008 12:00:00 AM by artzau
One reviewer remarked how "Ed Harris understands (the) Western (genre)" I couldn't agree more. This film is a delight. The writing is solid, the dialog sparked with humor, the heroes are more than caricatures and cardboard cut-outs, the villains are worthy anti-heroes and the back-up is wonderful. The performances of Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen and Jeremy Irons as the main protag-/antagonists are sterling. Harris is the lonely paladin, uncompromising in his ethic, drawn in by the warmth and softness of a needful woman, artfully and convincingly played by Renee Zellweger; Mortensen is the slightly jaded sidekick who both respects and doesn't completely understand his hero. A parallel villain is offered by Lance Henrikson, a kind of poor man's Clint Eastwood, giving an interesting twist to the story. Some comic relief is offered by veteran character actor, James Gammon and fine British actor Timothy Spall without reducing the tension in the story line or reverting to a burlesque. The mythic theme of the knight-errant works well in this presentation brought to light by the competent direction of Ed Harris. My only fear is that it being devoid of ballet-type ritual killings, CGI and only a mild spattering of violence, it will likely fly under the radar of much of today's theater goers, which is a shame. It's a fine film.
- An old school western that more than gets the job done. It's a tour de "fource" for Ed Harris 10/2/2008 12:00:00 AM by The_Amazing_Spy_Rises
Films are made for us to escape to a new reality, whether that reality be complete fantasy, present day, the future, or in this case, the good old West. What we have here is a great western that looks and feels like a classic in the making, an old school western with an old school touch of directing (and acting) from Ed Harris. Appaloosa is very accessible in a film genre that isn't so accessible. It's a straightforward film that, despite that, never becomes predictable and formulaic. Harris's wonderful job on all fronts make Appaloosa one of the most complete films of the year. It's got it all, great writing, killer acting, and a great atmosphere that allows the viewer to get trapped in this old western world.
Set in 1882 New Mexico, Appaloosa follows the fate of the town of the same name, which has fallen into the control of a ruthless outlaw (Jeremy Irons), and the powers that be have hired new hands to take control of the situation (Harris and Viggo Mortensen). However, when a mysterious widow (Renee Zellweger) arrives in town, loyalties will be tested, friendships will be put on trial, and guns will be fired.
The strong point, as I've said, is Ed Harris, who pulls the quadruple threat of acting, directing, writing, and producing. Despite all the work he did on this film, he still manages to turn in an Oscar worthy performance as the steadfast and unwavering commander of the town. Harris is subtle, nuanced, and never out of control. He commands the screen every time he's on it, without yelling or doing anything too crazy. Viggo Mortensen's near silent performance is not short on talent either, as one of silent acting's kings continues to show incredible versatility (the guy is a fantasy king, Russian mobster, and now an old west Deputy Marshall). To complete the trifecta of greatness, Jeremy Irons is the only guy I can imagine in the role of the film's villain. His freezing stare, mixed with the icy cold voice he is most known for, makes him one of the most memorable villains of the year.
Renee Zellweger really didn't add anything to the movie, though her character wasn't too interesting, and just serves as a plot device. This is what keeps the film from getting that "10" from me. The rest of the supporting cast is really a non-issue, as the story really only revolves around a few characters.
What I enjoyed most about the film is that it really made me feel like I was out west...right down to the little details, such as sandstorms, the presence of Native Americans, small drawls from the actors (thankfully none besides Zellweger had a bad one), and the different kinds of horses & guns in the film. Harris keeps the film moving nicely, and there's only a few moments where I felt it dragged a bit. Like I've said, it's hard to find a real fault here...the film is just well done all around, from a production standpoint.
When all is said and done, I knew how I felt about this film the second the lights went on. I clapped and said, "that was great". Appaloosa is an old school western that has everything a fan of the genre could want...including a suspenseful and tense gunfight and crazy Native Americans on horses! It's definitely one of the most complete westerns and films I've seen this year, and should be in contention for a few awards come Oscar season.
- Great Adaptation of Parker's novel 9/21/2008 12:00:00 AM by ronroc-1
I love all of Robert B. Parker's novels and I have a lot of respect for the craft of Ed Harris. This movie was a very faithful rendering of the book. Harris didn't get in the way of the storytelling rather he gave it a strong visualization. As the novel as written, the story is actually told through the eyes of Everett Hitch, played here by Viggo Mortenson. I love the way, even though he is somewhat of a side-kick, he was allowed to remain the viewpoint character. My only complaint was Renee as Allie. Reading the book I visualized a Faye Dunaway at 35. Diane Lane would have been more in line with the way the character was written in the novel. Renne struck me as a little too coquettish and obviously needy rather than manipulative and needy. It's a matter of taste but I would have preferred it. However, the rest of the casting was spot on and I hope Harris considers doing the sequel, "Resolution."