Film Review: Appaloosa

by Z*
Special to iVoryTowerz

You spot a crowd of men walking in the same direction in a movie theatre and you can guess they are about to see the new Western, Appaloosa. However, genre is not what drives the movie. It is its characters and their relationships that matter, and that is why Appaloosa should be appealing to a more diverse audience.

The movie is an adaptation of a novel of the same name by Robert B. Parker and it is Ed Harris’ second directorial work in which he also stars. He plays as a freelance lawman Virgil Cole who comes to small town Appaloosa with his longtime friend Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) to fight bad guys led by Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons).

During the first fifteen minutes, you might regret having picked a traditional Western with the familiar good vs. evil plot, a leading tough character, who beats up and shoots just about everyone, and whose every word is resolute and threatening…. But Appaloosa quickly aggregates the plot with a charming story of friendship and loyalty between Virgil and Everett. As the movie draws a praising “yeah!” from its male viewers, the female part of the audience sighs and might go as far as labeling the relationship between the two lawmen as cute.

The idea to adapt Parker’s novel came to Harris while on horse-riding vacations with his family. He said in a number of interviews that he admired the relationship between Virgil and Everett. Harris’s admiration transfers well onto the screen, as the two friends never dominate over one another. In fact, the two characters are the main protagonists who are equally good at shooting and are equally dedicated to law and order. Virgil talks slightly more than his buddy. But Everett is Virgil’s live dictionary that helps him out in awkward situations.

The two friends, Virgil and Everett, communicate through glances, nods and brief but funny dialogue. Their friendship might have to go through a test when a woman enters their lives in Appaloosa. Allison French’s (Renee Zellweger) presence in the town creates a number of problems for Virgil and, consequently, for Everett. This quasi-love triangle breaks some conventions of the genre but it will satisfy both Western fans and those who don’t like the genre.

Harris is one of the many actors-turned-directors who have proved that working in front of the camera educates performers on what works on the screen and what doesn’t. Perhaps Harris’ success can be explained by his desire to show that he can be a leading actor. Harris has done many good movies but he has barely stepped out of supporting roles lately. Directing allowed him to shine in a leading role, and he certainly made the most out of this self-given opportunity.

So when you plan a movie date, Appaloosa’s genre should be the last thing you consider. The setting is a secondary part and its purpose is more aesthetic than anything else. The presence of traditional Western elements, however, will make you nostalgic about the good old days. You will probably leave the theatre hopeful that more innovative Western novels are written and adapted into films like Appaloosa.

*Z is from a country that made up the Soviet Union, and her writing on cultural and political matters could have a backlash when she returns home from the U.S., so she writes under a pseudonym.

(The promotional graphic for Appaloosa is from Warner Brothers Pictures. To see a trailer for the R-rated film, please check below.)

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