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Appaloosa

Movie title: Appaloosa (2008)
Grade: B+ (3 ½ stars) (Recommended!)
Rated: R
Directors: Ed Harris
Producers: Ed Harris, Michael London (Exec.), Cotty Chubb (Exec.), Kathryn Himoff
Starring: Ed Harris “Virgil Cole,” Viggo Mortensen “Everitt Hitch,” Renee Zelweger “Allison French,” Jeremy Irons “Randall Bragg,” Timothy Spall “Phil Olson,” Lance Henriksen “Ring Shelton,” Tom Bauer “Abner Raines,” James Gammon “Earl May,” Ariadna Gil “Katie,” Gabriel Marantz “Joe Whittfield”
Genre: Drama/Western/Action
Summation: Two lawmen are employed by a town to keep the peace amidst an invasion of outlaws and a woman threatens to come between them.
Spoilers ahead: No
In a word: Authentic

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If you’re like me, your mind automatically runs to Clint Eastwood when you think of classic westerns. And when you see new western movies, you naturally compare them to older big-name movies, like Unforgiven (1992) and before that A Fist Full of Dollars (1964). But if you’re not like me, and you don’t happen to associate the likes of Eastwood with truly great westerns, that’s ok too. Appaloosa isn’t your typical western, and it doesn’t fit into the typical Eastwood mold.

Packed full of behavioral nuances, the film Appaloosa focuses on the lives of a Marshall and his deputy and a town by the name of Appaloosa. The town has been overrun with outlaws, and Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everitt Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) are the “big gun” lawmen called in to deal with the problem. But the situation intensifies when a woman by the name of Allison French (Renee Zellweger) threatens to get in the way of the two men’s work and friendship. Character development in Appaloosa is awesome, as is the story, which runs along rather unpredictably, with great appeal and many powerful performances.

Life in Appaloosa, as portrayed in the movie, is very real to life for that day and time. A life-seasoned Marshall and his loyal deputy show great wisdom in handling some major life-or-death situations, and the two are prepared to die in the line of duty, unlike Eastwood’s character “William Munny” in Unforgiven who was just lucky at killing: “I’ve always been lucky when it comes to killing folks.”

No, it’s not like that here. It’s the interpersonal nuances that matter in this movie, like love threatening to jinx a relationship, and men with less-than-decent manners (who don’t see anything wrong with asking an aptly polite woman if she is a whore) having to face, not just their enemies, but themselves. Lack of manners, as well as a lack of education was what the movie portrayed—and don’t let anyone tell you that the movie is jauvanistic or bigoted. It isn’t. There was a lot of that back then.

The makeup and dress aspects of the film are superb, as is the choreography at every scene. Stunning performances came in the acting of Harris, Mortensen, and Irons, but especially worthy of note is Renee Zellweger. Her mannerisms, simplicity, and yet duplicitously deviant nature as Allison French made her fit right into the 1800s mold with top-notch performance.

What made the movie great is also what seemed to be a shortcoming. The nuances and details of the film were so deep that it’s easy to step back and want a little more of something else. Indeed, more could have been happening. Though you care for the characters, you don’t care that much. At times, I wanted more of the simple stuff to appreciate (town violence, bad attitudes, and social commotion, etc.), but it wasn’t there. The story focuses to a fault on the dynamic of the woman and the punishment of one particular outlaw. The movie could have benefited by broadening its focus.

Some parts move more quickly than others, but the story is great. In many ways, I was reminded of Lonesome Dove as I watched. It may not be the best western ever made, but it is more than worthy to be classed among the better ones. So if you liked Tombstone and 3:10 to Yuma, chances are you’ll like Appaloosa, a very good modern western, where psychology and human relationships play a much bigger part than the “shoot ‘em up” aspect of things (though you’ll probably find plenty of that too).

(JH)

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