By Jack Rico
Rated: R for some violence and language.
Release Date: 2008-09-17
Starring: Robert Knott, Ed Harris
Official Website: http://welcometoappaloosa.warnerbros.com/
Appaloosa, based on the book by Bostonian writer Robert B. Parker, is not your Clint Eastwood western. It is unconventional, caustic, and dare I say, peculiar. Ed Harris, who directed, co-wrote and stars in the film missed an opportunity at creating an Oscar worthy film, if only he would have altered the novel’s story a bit.
The plot is about ruthless rancher, Bragg (Jeremy Irons), and his gang who shoot up the town of Appaloosa whenever they get the urge. When three of the hired hands kill a man and rape his wife, the local marshal goes out to Bragg’s ranch and gets gunned down in cold blood. Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) are the exact problem solvers the town needs since they are “policemen” who do the dirty work no one else will do. The city aldermen hire them to bring Bragg to heel. Cole agrees to the job, and so the war begins. Somewhere along the way Cole falls in love with a harlot piano player (Renée Zellwegger) and tensions begin to flare amongst the men.
Overall, Appaloosa is not a bad movie, but just like the book, it was not laid out coherently. There are moments when you do not understand the character’s decision making, thus, making you question the entertainment value.
Nevertheless, the film’s best trait is the back and forth dialogue between Mortensen and Harris, and in some instances, Irons. The acting is sincerely superb, with the exception of Ms. Zellwegger, who just like in Clooney’s ‘Leatherheads’, brings the movie to a low. In addition, she has not been looking her best these days and is evident in close ups. I wonder if Harris has something against her, because there were a bevy of those. Coincidently, one of Parker’s most used (debatably over-used) themes is that of a good man loving a bad, feeble woman, one that Harris obviously agrees with. While juggling that theme with the war against Bragg, something does get lost. A little disinterest kicks in, as well as wariness.
Thankfully, Viggo’s presence, appearance and demeanor make up for the brief incongruous periods. To be frank, if the film dealt more with Hitch than Cole we could be talking about an Oscar candidate for best picture and actor for Mortensen. If only Harris would have adapted the novel rather than be so faithful to the book.