October 20, 2008

I took a bit of a long break, didn’t I? I’ll be sure to make up for it…a lot has happened these past few weeks, and there is a great deal to talk about. First, though, let’s have a movie review…

Appaloosa (2008) is obviously a new film, but it is interesting to see a western on the big screen these days. Westerns are no longer as popular as they might once have been, but the few westerns that  have come out recently seem to have a fair amount of success. A few people seem to be passionately driven to keep the genre alive, such as Kevin Costner. Many new actors often star in westerns too, including actors from foreign countries such as Russell Crow and Christain Bale.

And now, we have Ed Harris’s Appaloosa. Forgive me if I refer to Open Range (2003). There are a few similarities that I recognized between the two films. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Appaloosa is the thinking man’s Open Range. The characters are somewhat more mature and three-dimensional. Even better, they have some of the rough attitude Clint Eastwood had as the nameless gunslinger.

Appaloosa is the story of a pair of gunmen who arrive in Appaloosa to enforce the law after the original town sheriff and his men were shot by a nearby rancher, played by Jeremy Irons. MUch to the town officials’ chagrin, the more experienced of the two lawmen, Virgil Cole, insists that he will dictate the law as well as enforce it. Again, this is similar theme to one of Clint Eastwood’s cowboy flicks, Hang ‘Em High. Later, the attractive Allison French (played by Renee Zellweger) comes to town and develops a relationship with Virgil.  All the while, the omnious rancher Randall Bragg and his gang threaten the town, and Virgil and his partner Everett Hitch (Vigo Mortensen) confront him.

Obviously the two main characters are somewhat similar to the two main characters from Open Range. Ed Harris is the mentor and alpha male, and Vigo Mortensen is the veteran gunman. There was also a romantic interest in Open Range. How Appaloosa differs from Open Range is the maturity and moral ambiguity it gives its characters. Sure, Costner’s character had his share of guilt, but whereas he merely disabled captured henchmen, Virgil and Everett shoot them. They sometimes even intimidate their own employers, whether they intend to or not.

The plot is pretty conventional, but it does have its moments. In most westerns, its pretty obvious who is going to win. After all, how could John Wayne or Clint Eastwood ever lose against a snide bandit? However, that is what makes Appaloosa so interesting. We see the foreshadowing signs of a plot twist, but it is difficult to predict how some characters will react to things.  The heroes are clearly experts of their craft, but they are by no means perfect. They get overconfident, jealous, nervous, all the things we all feel in the real world. They are not weak, but they are not infallible either. That obviously doesn’t mean that everything the characters do and say will be new or different from every other western, but in general this genre is firmly rooted to its traditions. Think of it this way; what kind of western doesn’t invovle a saloon fight or a high tension standoff?

However, whereas the screenwriting is pretty decent, the acting tends to be hit and miss. There are a few British actors that seem awkward when they speak. One British actor seems to be playing a Southerner, but can’t pull off the accent. Some of the silent exchanges between Virgil and Everett are a tad exaggerated and goofy. With that being said, Ed Harris plays a tough cowboy effortlessly. Why he doesn’t play cowboys more often is a mystery. He has the face like a bronze statue; as long as I could remember he always had the lines of old age, but he doesn’t appear to be any older in Appaloosa than he did in Enemy at the Gates (2001). Its the same kind of seasoned tough guy look Eastwood had. Vigo Mortensen performs quite well too, possibly even better than Harris does. Unfortunately, even the good acting is sometimes hampered with weird technical issues with the camera. Sometimes things are not in focus when they should be.

Appaloosa is a very interesting movie, and it is a great modern western. With proper advertising, this could have been a big hit, and any hardcore fan of westerns will likely enjoy this film.


7.7 out of 10