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I saw Appaloosa last night. Absolutely fantastic. Whether it is because
he is a bit older I don't know, but Ed Harris obviously actually
A straightforward western tale with very little revisionism, with real men doing "what men have to do". The sense of space, the wish to be part of civilization, the bad men resisting that encroachment, the sense of the mythic; it was all there.
A little bit more modern in approach than a classic 50's tale, particularly in how Renée Zellwegger's character developed, but a real story nevertheless; good guys, bad guys. Jeremy Irons is very good as the baddie. Timothy Spall is good comic relief and Ed Harris and Vigo Mortensen a terrific pair, carefully nurturing their relationship while understanding exactly what they have to do.
The pace was very good, allowing the story and character to develop properly. Even so, it could have and should have been shorter - John Ford, or more likely Anthony Mann would have got through this story in about 90 minutes, but very satisfying nevertheless.
Costner did a pretty good job on Open Range (that was really miles too long), 3:10 to Yuma was pathetic (why they bothered to remake it when the makers so totally misunderstood the thrust of the original I will never know).
But this was the real deal, or at least as near to the real deal as we are ever likely to get nowadays. Too bad it will disappear without a trace.
One reviewer remarked how "Ed Harris understands (the) Western (genre)" I couldn't agree more. This film is a delight. The writing is solid, the dialog sparked with humor, the heroes are more than caricatures and cardboard cut-outs, the villains are worthy anti-heroes and the back-up is wonderful. The performances of Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen and Jeremy Irons as the main protag-/antagonists are sterling. Harris is the lonely paladin, uncompromising in his ethic, drawn in by the warmth and softness of a needful woman, artfully and convincingly played by Renee Zellweger; Mortensen is the slightly jaded sidekick who both respects and doesn't completely understand his hero. A parallel villain is offered by Lance Henrikson, a kind of poor man's Clint Eastwood, giving an interesting twist to the story. Some comic relief is offered by veteran character actor, James Gammon and fine British actor Timothy Spall without reducing the tension in the story line or reverting to a burlesque. The mythic theme of the knight-errant works well in this presentation brought to light by the competent direction of Ed Harris. My only fear is that it being devoid of ballet-type ritual killings, CGI and only a mild spattering of violence, it will likely fly under the radar of much of today's theater goers, which is a shame. It's a fine film.
Films are made for us to escape to a new reality, whether that reality
be complete fantasy, present day, the future, or in this case, the good
old West. What we have here is a great western that looks and feels
like a classic in the making, an old school western with an old school
touch of directing (and acting) from Ed Harris. Appaloosa is very
accessible in a film genre that isn't so accessible. It's a
straightforward film that, despite that, never becomes predictable and
formulaic. Harris's wonderful job on all fronts make Appaloosa one of
the most complete films of the year. It's got it all, great writing,
killer acting, and a great atmosphere that allows the viewer to get
trapped in this old western world.
Set in 1882 New Mexico, Appaloosa follows the fate of the town of the same name, which has fallen into the control of a ruthless outlaw (Jeremy Irons), and the powers that be have hired new hands to take control of the situation (Harris and Viggo Mortensen). However, when a mysterious widow (Renee Zellweger) arrives in town, loyalties will be tested, friendships will be put on trial, and guns will be fired.
The strong point, as I've said, is Ed Harris, who pulls the quadruple threat of acting, directing, writing, and producing. Despite all the work he did on this film, he still manages to turn in an Oscar worthy performance as the steadfast and unwavering commander of the town. Harris is subtle, nuanced, and never out of control. He commands the screen every time he's on it, without yelling or doing anything too crazy. Viggo Mortensen's near silent performance is not short on talent either, as one of silent acting's kings continues to show incredible versatility (the guy is a fantasy king, Russian mobster, and now an old west Deputy Marshall). To complete the trifecta of greatness, Jeremy Irons is the only guy I can imagine in the role of the film's villain. His freezing stare, mixed with the icy cold voice he is most known for, makes him one of the most memorable villains of the year.
Renee Zellweger really didn't add anything to the movie, though her character wasn't too interesting, and just serves as a plot device. This is what keeps the film from getting that "10" from me. The rest of the supporting cast is really a non-issue, as the story really only revolves around a few characters.
What I enjoyed most about the film is that it really made me feel like I was out west...right down to the little details, such as sandstorms, the presence of Native Americans, small drawls from the actors (thankfully none besides Zellweger had a bad one), and the different kinds of horses & guns in the film. Harris keeps the film moving nicely, and there's only a few moments where I felt it dragged a bit. Like I've said, it's hard to find a real fault here...the film is just well done all around, from a production standpoint.
When all is said and done, I knew how I felt about this film the second the lights went on. I clapped and said, "that was great". Appaloosa is an old school western that has everything a fan of the genre could want...including a suspenseful and tense gunfight and crazy Native Americans on horses! It's definitely one of the most complete westerns and films I've seen this year, and should be in contention for a few awards come Oscar season.
I love all of Robert B. Parker's novels and I have a lot of respect for the craft of Ed Harris. This movie was a very faithful rendering of the book. Harris didn't get in the way of the storytelling rather he gave it a strong visualization. As the novel as written, the story is actually told through the eyes of Everett Hitch, played here by Viggo Mortenson. I love the way, even though he is somewhat of a side-kick, he was allowed to remain the viewpoint character. My only complaint was Renee as Allie. Reading the book I visualized a Faye Dunaway at 35. Diane Lane would have been more in line with the way the character was written in the novel. Renne struck me as a little too coquettish and obviously needy rather than manipulative and needy. It's a matter of taste but I would have preferred it. However, the rest of the casting was spot on and I hope Harris considers doing the sequel, "Resolution."
Appaloosa is based on the 2005 novel of the same name written by Robert
B. Parker. It's directed by Ed Harris, who also co-writes the story
with Robert Knott. Harris also stars alongside Viggo Mortensen, Renée
Zellweger, Jeremy Irons & Lance Henriksen. Music is by Jeff Beal and
Dean Semler provides cinematography on location in Albuquerque, Austin
and Santa Fe.
Appaloosa is in the grip of bully boy rancher Randall Bragg (Irons), who finally oversteps the mark when the latest Marshall and his deputies are killed in cold blood. The townsfolk decide enough is enough and hire no nonsense travelling lawmen Virgil Cole (Harris) and his sidekick Everett Hitch (Mortensen) to protect and serve the town. Ruling with a rod of iron, Cole & Hitch start to bring order to Appaloosa, but the arrival in town of pretty Allie French (Zellweger) causes quite a stir between the two men. Bad timing too since the guys are trying to get Bragg to his rightful execution.
In the modern era the Western has been the hardest genre for film makers to tackle. You can probably count on one hand the number of great or agreeable ones that have surfaced post Costner and Eastwood's efforts of 1990 and 1992 respectively. Enter Ed Harris, who undaunted by the long odds of getting a Western to be successful; and suffering worrying overtures from his backers at New Line Cinema, got Appaloosa made. Well made as it happens.
Since the story itself is etched like the Wyatt Earp legend, there's really no fresh perspective on offer here. In fact, anyone familiar with Edward Dmytryk's excellent Warlock from 1959 will feel some narrative déjà vu. But Appaloosa does have strong performances and lush landscapes to see it successfully home. Slotting in a good helping of action, romance and humour also goes some way to making Harris' movie a worthy modern day Oater. True, the cliche's are many, but Harris wasn't after revisionism, he wanted (and got) old fashioned Oater values. A film that follows those old beloved B movie Western conventions, but one that still retains a topical criminal thread.
The best reward in the film comes from spending time with Harris & Mortensen. Their characters are nicely drawn and not over cooked by the script. Cole & Hitch are devoted to each other, lots of straight love and respect exists between the two men. Their bond is believably brought to life by Harris & Mortensen, who formed a friendship when making A History Of Violence for David Cronenberg in 2005. Zellweger and Irons too are not without high merit value. She (stepping in when Diane Lane walked over delays), is pleasing and captivates in what is the critical glue role. While he is dandy dastardly supreme, a well spoken villain of much intelligence and crafty as a cat.
Appaloosa is a subtle film, both in story and as a technical production. Beal's score is unobtrusive, while Semler's photography manages to deliver that old fashioned feel that Harris was after (the low lighting for the interiors is particularly on the money) . Harris' direction is smooth and unhurried in pace, with the odd inspired bit thrown in for good measure (check out the up-tilt camera work during a train on a bridge sequence). While the production design can't be faulted. All that and you got the likes of Henriksen and Timothy Spall in the support cast too. A lovely film that is as tight as the friendship at its core. 7.5/10
Appaloosa as a western is okay, as a movie its okay, but as a character study it's great. Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are two of the most underrated actors (not stars) in Hollywood. Viggo should have had two or three Oscars by now. His rendition of Everett Hitch made the whole movie more than worthwhile. He's a man of little words but great thought. He also an observant man, of things and people. He's loyal but with practicality. He knows what the two of them do and why they do it and he know enough about Virgil not to step on his toes. But he also knows when to say what he as to say and leave it at that. I'm never that impressed by Renee Zellweger but in this movie she sort of fit in. 7/10
I suppose this film is as vulnerable to deep analysis as the next one, but, why bother? This is entertainment the way I like it, straight up without a lot of foolish over the top action. The real west must have been fraught with similar dilemmas as that confronting the town of Appaloosa: What to do with a lawless band of men determined to live as they please by preying on timid town dwellers? I doubt there were many men like Virgil Cole or his partner Everett Hitch in the real west having lived among their great, great grandchildren (I've no idea what the real genealogy is) for a time, but men have often tried to live like they do with the result that they lived undeservedly short lives. Still, guys like me can't get enough of their stories and Ed Harris apparently feels the same way. Only Clint Eastwood in my memory has attempted to tap into this same wellspring of folklore as in The Unforgiven. Though we all love Clint, I'd have to say Ed outdoes him here. He's got a wonderful sense of what a real gunfight might have been like. And though he's trimmed off the cries of pain and the gore, it still has the ring of truth.
On the immediate surface "Apaloosa" occurs as an old school Western
grounded in the battle of good against evil. For the most part first
time director/ writer Ed Harris's "Apaloosa" is the traditional tale of
gunslingers hired to protect the town against the malevolent rancher,
who terrorizes the town of Apaloosa. This slithery and wily Rancher is
Randall Bragg, well played by Academy Award Winner Jeremy Irons. Irons
is amazing. In the opening Bragg (Irons) kills the town Marshall and
his deputies in cold blood. So there is no question surrounding Bragg's
character. Harris and Viggo Mortensen play Virgil Cole and Everett
Hitch, who are lawmen for hire. The town of Apaloosa signs a contract
with Virgil and Everett paying them to protect the town from Bragg. As
part of the deal Apaloosa surrenders legal jurisdiction and autonomy to
Cole and Hitch. This is pretty straight forward until femme fatale
widow Allison French (Renee Zellwegger) arrives in town. Virgil takes a
quick fancy to Allison, but her motives are vague and questionable at
best. Will she threaten Virgil's partnership with Everett?
First off, I ultimately liked "Apaloosa", because Viggo Mortensen is awesome as Everett. Despite the movie's quirky idiosyncrasies, Mortensen commands the heroic presence as the sensible man of honor. Mortensen is the Western hero in the tradition of Clint Eastwood. As Everett, we always know where Mortensen stands, and he is both charismatic and cool. In a great scene a rival asks Everett about Virgil's gun prowess. Everett says plainly, "I haven't seen anyone as good as Virgil." Mortensen's Virgil salvages the movie's sense of honor.
As mentioned previously, "Apaloosa" is not really all that traditional just below the surface. And this is not necessarily a good thing. This is not the anti-hero masterpiece of Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven". In one sense, I think Harris would like it to be. For one thing although Harris's Virgil is brave and noble, he is an apparent partial nut job. He goes nonlinear on some hoods in a saloon, among other weird out bursts. Harris's Virgil is not an educated man, and clumsily forces his diction and stumbles through Emerson. Instead of coming off as charmingly eccentric, his Virgil occurs as a little weird. Renee Zellwegger is an amazing actress, but here she struggles to carry off pretty. Her character Allison also has the propensity to have sex with virtually any man with a pulse. Straight and narrow Virgil in love with psycho whore Allison is not the most conventional love story, nor is it the story's most endearing plot line. Again, this may be more artifact of the screenplay by Harris and Robert Knot based on Robert B. Parker's best selling novel.
In spite of its quirkiness and kind of nutty characters, Harris manages to reign in the movie as it concludes-- opting for the more heroic. There is a great scene before one the climatic showdowns where Allison asks Virgil and Everett, "Aren't either of you at all afraid?" Virgil says, " I guess I don't think about that so much." Also in "Apaloosa" the action is not leveraged for the utmost drama. Director Harris's action sequences lack crispnessthe gun fight blocking is mostly single shot, without any interesting angles. Aside from the last gun fight, most of the action is diluted of high drama. The action is well done, just not spectacular.
"Apaloosa" is an amalgamation of the traditional Western with the idiosyncratic melodrama of the new. The overall effect is compelling, and also makes you scratch your head. Viggo Mortensen's strong and charismatic performance as Everett Hitch eventually wins out, and makes "Apaloosa" worth watching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In "Appaloosa," which is set in the New Mexican territory of 1882, Ed
Harris and Viggo Mortensen are a pair of frontier lawmen hired by the
citizens of Appaloosa to wrest control of the town from a gang of
ruffians (led by Jeremy Irons) after they shoot down the marshal and
his deputies in cold blood. Renee Zellweger also shows up as a
promiscuous widow who captures the eye and eventually the heart of the
newly appointed sheriff (Harris).
Co-written by Harris and Robert Knott (from a novel by Robert B. Parker) and directed (rather ploddingly) by Harris, "Appaloosa" pays homage to the time-honored traditions of the Western genre, as the forces of Good, represented by Harris and Mortensen, square off against the forces of Evil, embodied by Irons and his cohorts.
There's not much that is truly new here, except perhaps for a refreshingly novel moral slackness in the lead female character. Yet, while the characterizations are rich, the relationships complex and the performances authentic, the movie itself suffers from a bad case of inertia, loping along at an enervating pace when it should be racing ahead at a full-on gallop.
There's substance of a sort to "Appaloosa;" it's just a question of whether you'll be able to stay awake long enough to fully absorb and appreciate it.
There are two tough partners in justice Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and
Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) that have been riding together for more
than one decade and they understand each other just fine
not initially supposed to talk about their easy, warm, intuitive
We intuitively catch there's something between them, that
special bond, that profound respect, and obviously that sense of
esteem, of attention and sympathy and most of all each other's needs
Ed is particularly fine It may not be a romantic conception, but he gives his role great vitality He's melancholy, laconic and assured as the cool, nerveless professional hired gun who becomes the town's peace keeper... His justice is rapid and simple Follow his law or get locked up; if you deny, you're going to be shot He's also very faithful, and you see this in his friendship with Everett Hitch
Virgil trusts Everett completely because Everett is very sincere and truthful with him
With his formidable shotgun, Everett is a kind of Virgil's straight man, his worshiping right hand and conscience Mortensen is a sharpshooter He's never seen on foot, in any scene, without his huge weapon His heavy rifle has become almost another character in the film It doesn't matter where, either in his hands or right next to him And that's in the bar, in the restaurant, in the office, and even in the bedroom
Renee Zellweger plays the role of Allison French, a mysterious woman who seduces everyone After Cole and Hitch meet her in a restaurant, they knew that she is a refined widow, that she arrives to the brutal New Mexico town with one dollar in her purse, that she plays piano and likes to be called Allie
Cole takes a liking to her, and makes a very tough decision to stick with her Zellweger plays the malicious new-gal with a great sense of sweetness and gaiety She brings liveliness and refinement to her role
Another strong character in "Appaloosa" is the miscreant cold-hearted rancher Randall Bragg The film starts with the killing of the town's last Marshall and his deputies at the hands of the nefarious Bragg played by Jeremy Irons Bragg is a wealthy man whose ranch henchmen run menacingly and aggressively over the town
"Appaloosa" is a Western of real depth and sophistication Every punch seen in the film is like a word of dialog moving the story forward, creating tension and drama
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