Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, Rene Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, Timothy Spall, Lance Henriksen. Action/western. Written by Robert Knott & Ed Harris. Directed by Ed Harris.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Set in 1882 New Mexico, Appaloosa revolves around a pair of morose hired guns (Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris) who come to clean up a dangerous town run by a ruthless, powerful rancher (Jeremy Irons) and his band of outlaws. While boldly bringing new order to the town, the two fearless lawmen meet a provocative outsider (Rene Zellweger) whose unconventional ways threaten to destroy their decade-old bond.
PREVIEW REVIEW: Usually its the female lead who is the moral compass, drawing out the best in her male counterpart. But Ms. Zellweger plays the misguided miscreant who manages to captivate the love of nearly every man she encounters, including her kidnapper and the ruthless head bad guy. Shes prim and proper on the surface, but, you know, it's the Old West, so a girl has to do what a girl has to do. As for the two male leads, they go by the code of the west, which is decidedly more terse with males who cross the line than the ladies. It's not so much a morality tale as a tale about two saddle tramps who have mainly stayed on the right side of the law. Well, they wore the badges, anyway.
Ed Harris is kind of a Gus McRae from Lonesome Dove, with a bit more steely eyed glare and a lot less charm. And Mr. Mortensen is kind of Doc Holliday, backing up his Wyatt Earp-like buddy. So what we get is a high-testosterone actioneer with two tough knight-errant hombres eventually besting every bad guy west of the Pecos.
Not as gritty as most cowboy movies from this past 25 years, but still managing an R-rating, Appaloosa is crafted in the prose of anti-establishment storytelling rather than the poetry of, say, John Ford's western sentimentality. The violence is in your face, with the dialogue incorporating the same objectionables found in every other genre of today. At the end of Appaloosa, you feel somewhat entertained but not rejuvenated. It's more Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven than John Wayne's True Grit.
Allow me to suggest a few DVD alternatives, oaters with many of the same themes Appaloosa contents, but with more impacting storytelling.
Shane. A perfect morality play set in the Old West as a lone gunfighter comes to the aid of homesteaders. Stars Alan Ladd and the perfectly cast Jack Palance as a villainous gunslinger. The editing and sound have never been more effectively used in a film. The look, the story and the performances are topnotch. This is as good as a film gets. In color.
My Darling Clementine. Full of John Ford details and the descriptive photography of Joseph P. MacDonald, this is a first class (if highly fictional) telling of the legend of Wyatt Earp and the O.K. Corral. The style, the look, the performances from Henry Fonda, Victor Mature and Walter Brennan who menacingly tells his cowardly son, When ya pull a gun, kill a man, everything about this film is exceptional. Its a perfect film. Shot in black & white.
The Searchers. John Wayne stars in John Ford's most complex and visually stunning western. Ethan Edwards searches for his niece after marauding Indians kidnap her. In color.
Gunfight At The O.K. Corral. Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas. Another retelling of the O.K. Corral legend, helped along by bravado performances and an unforgettable score by Dimitri Tiomkin. In color.
Ride the High Country. This nearly flawless film depicts the ending of a way of life for two westerners, one a lawman, the other his outlaw friend. Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott. Directed by Sam Peckinpah before his films became filled with extremely violent images. In color.