Ed Harris’ second directorial effort, ‘Appaloosa,’ is a study in friendship and quality filmmaking. While most westerns seem loath to have characters discuss their feelings and thoughts, ‘Appaloosa,’ doesn’t shy away from such openness. And that’s what makes it such a treat.
Based on Robert B. Parker’s novel, ‘Appaloosa,’ tells the story of Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. They’re two gunslingers who make their living working as lawmen in whatever town will have them. As they arrive in Appaloosa, there is trouble. Rancher Randall Bragg has killed the last sheriff and Virgil and Everett want to bring Bragg to justice. Meanwhile, a widow, Mrs. French has arrived to play the piano at the local hotel, and Virgil has a thing for her. However, she seems to be unsure of what she wants.
If the plot seems simplistic, it’s because it is. What makes ‘Appaloosa’ such a delight is it’s attention to detail and plotting. The characters, while in touch with their feelings, are not an anomaly in the western genre. These are still tough, rough guys, but people who know who they are. And they are comfortable with that.
The acting is solid. Viggo Mortensen is wonderful as Everett, someone who spends much of his life thinking and not talking. Jeremy Irons is a as wonderful a villain as you would think. The only off-note is that of Renee Zellweger, but perhaps it is the character of Allie that is difficult to understand and not the fault of the actor.
Harris’s camera lingers enough to show the frame and the detail. You get the feel of the scene with every shot. Nothing is wasted. What’s impressive about the film is the lack of showing off. Harris is confident enough in both his ability and his material that, much like Virgil, he doesn’t need to prove anything.
Every western that comes out now seems to be obsessed with proving something. Gunmen have feelings. Gunmen swear. It’s hard work being a gunman. ‘Appaloosa,’ has all of that too, but it doesn’t linger on it. By painting the picture as simple fact, the story allows the plot to move along without too much introspection. If you’re looking for a solid, well-built and quality western, look no further. ‘Appaloosa,’ won’t change the genre as we know it, but that’s okay. A quality story about adults trying to get through life is reason enough to seek ‘Appaloosa’ out. -Sam