Appaloosa (2011) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: R for some violence, brief nudity, some sexuality, and language
Running time: 115 min.
Cast: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Jeremy Irons, Renee Zellweger, Lance Henriksen, Ariadna Gil, Adam Nelson
Director: Ed Harris
Screenplay: Ed Harris, Robert Knott
Adapted from Robert B. Parker's Western novel of 2005, Appaloosa tells the tale of two 'peacemakers for hire', Virgil Cole (Harris, National Treasure: Book of Secrets) and Everett Hitch (Mortensen, Hidalgo), who enter the New Mexico town (the year is 1882) only to find that it is suffering under the wicked hand of an amoral rancher named Bragg (Irons, Eragon) and his band of bad men, who've just murdered the only law the town knew. Virgil makes the town an offer they can't afford to refuse, by bringing the town under his power of being the town's new marshal, appointing Everett as deputy, and enforcing his own laws as he sees fit in order to rid the town of any malevolent forces that might enter, specifically Bragg's men. Virgil's stony stance begins to soften with the arrival of a sassy piano playing widow named Allison (Zellweger, Leatherheads), sparking a whirlwind romance that has them planning out a life together after only one night. But Bragg is out to test the new lawman at every turn, becoming even more wily once it is discovered there may be an eyewitness to the murders willing to testify against him.
Ed Harris not only stars, but also directs for his second time (after the award-winning Pollock) and co-writes the script. It isn't gritty or novel, though its leisurely pace does give it an offbeat feel (some might find the tone similar to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). It doesn't always seem authentic, with some phony-looking facial hair on some of the actors, and a town that looks like a movie set construction. Harris does tell the story well, even if it lacks visual pizzazz, although the main plot is sidetracked all too often with the love story between Virgil and Allie, which is fairly predictable once a pattern is established. At its core, it's a story of friendship, and the unspoken code between men that goes beyond whatever laws are on the books, and it is refreshing to see a film show its man and his sidekick as something more than a team-up of profession without explanation. You do get the sense that these two men know and respect each other enough to form a lasting bond of trust and honor.
Appaloosa features some good locale work, a solid performance by Mortensen, and does manage to entertain throughout, despite its simplicity. Zellweger looks and acts out of place from the get go, and her nearly universal appeal among men is somewhat of a head scratcher. It does pale in comparison to the excellent remake of 3:10 to Yuma, which featured a similar story of a wily criminal doing what he can to keep from getting out of prison, but it's quite good for fans of the genre.
©2011 Vince Leo