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Monday, 6 October 2008

Appaloosa, 2008 - Movie Review

Director: Ed Harris
Starring: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, Timothy Spall, Lance Henriksen, Adriana Gil.
Running Time: 114 minutes
Score: 7 / 10

This review by neil-476. It may contain spoilers.

Let's get it straight right from the start - Appaloosa is not a classic western. It is, however, a good western.

Appaloosa is a small town in the back of beyond, in thrall to rich local landowner Bragg (Jeremy Irons) and his thuggish ranch hands. Bragg kills the sheriff and his deputies, so the Councilmen hire Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and his sidekick Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), a pair of freelance gun-for-hire lawmen, to sort the problem out. These men have an easy, almost telepathic, relationship which become complicated once Allison "Ally" French (Renee Zellweger) comes to town - she pitches herself at Virgil and hooks him although, confusingly, she also makes advances to Everett, which he rejects. Bragg is caught and convicted, but his own hired guns use Ally as a lever to have him freed. There then follows a pursuit and resolution with some minor divergences from expectations.

In many respects this is a completely traditional western, featuring a plot which has been seen, with variations, many, many times before. Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are settled into their parts, as comfortable as old clothes, before the movie begins, and the relationship between these two men is the strongest element of the movie by far. It is a handsome looking movie, although the camera was occasionally a little too jittery for my taste.

But there are some problems. Zellweger's part is not only a thankless one, it also seems not to have been fully thought through. For a sizeable chunk of the movie it is far from clear where Ally's loyalties really lie, and at least two of the false(?) hints deserve better resolution than they get.

Jeremy Irons' accent is simply awful - neither American nor English, nor even convincingly mid-Atlantic. He has done convincing American accents, but he doesn't do so here. He would have done better to simply stick with an English accent. Timothy Spall fares slightly better, but only slightly (note: see Gary Oldman for instructions on How Brits Should Do American Accents In Movies).

My final reservation is more an observation than a criticism. This film is very low on traditional western-type action - if there is more than 5 minutes' worth in total during the entire film, I would be surprised. To be fair, this is probably an accurate reflection on how things were (the movie's best line features Mortensen and Harris lying wounded after a shoot-out lasting, perhaps, 15 seconds: Mortensen says "Well, that was quick," and Harris replies, "Everybody could shoot.") So this is a character-based atmosphere piece built on a traditional western framework. As I said, not a classic, but still a rewarding movie for western fans.

Do you agree with the review? Will you be going to see the movie?