Director: Ed Harris
Reviewed: April 2010
jamesintexas Rating: ***
I'm a fan of westerns. Not many are made nowadays, but it seems like those that are are made with love. 3:10 to Yuma was my top film a few years back. Open Range with Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall was a gift. I was raised appreciating Silverado as well as John Wayne's films. So, I'm inclined to walk into Appaloosa looking for things to like. And there was quite a bit that I liked.
Ed Harris plays the laconic lead character, Virgil Cole, a kind of bounty hunter, rent-a-sheriff, who speaks deliberately and shoots with a deadly aim. Cole and his partner, Everett Hitch, (an excellent Viggo Mortenson) arrive in the town of Appaloosa, New Mexico and are contracted out by the townfolk to extinguish the fires set by the dangerous rancher Randall Bragg (the wily Jeremy Irons). We know ten minutes into the movie that there will be an inevitable final showdown. How it gets there, though, is part of the fun.
They become deputized, arrest Bragg, deal with his men, deal with Native Americans, go to trial, protect a witness, try to deliver the prisoner to the gallows, experience their train being hijacked. All the while, both men quietly, stoically stick to their code. After a shootout, Hitch announces, "That was quick." To which, Virgil replies, "Yeah, everybody could shoot." That pretty much sums up most of the movie. Virgil and Hitch are good at what they do. Most of the men they come up against are not as good.
There's Renee Zelwegger as a damsel in distress, a recently widowed woman who arrives in tht town and falls for Virgil and tries to put the moves on Hitch. Something about Zelwegger's performance didn't sit right with me. The character or the performance. However, the interplay between Cole and Hitch is the real love story here. Without a word, they can glance at each other, each knowing the other so well, reading the other's mind.
Harris stages the shootouts realistically and intensely; there are some beautiful shots of the landscape as well. At times, I wonder if his performance as Virgil could have been more human; I never bought the softening of his character as he falls into a relationship (I won't call it love). He gives some vicious line readings though.
Bragg announces with glee, "I told you you'd never hang me, Cole!"
Virgil retorts, "Never ain't here yet."
Good, solid film-making.