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Appaloosa Review

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New Line

R 108 min




The great American western is one of my favorite film genres and though rare in comparison to the 50s and 60s, probably the most consistently high quality movies of recent time.

John Ford and Howard Hawkes pioneered the golden age, but in the 60s Sergio Leone gave us darker “spaghetti western.”

Then came the revisionist westerns, where, for example, the Indians are the good guys. LITTLE BIG MAN and DANCES WITH WOLVES come to mind.

Ironically Clint Eastwood turned another corner with THE UNFORGIVEN. I guess I’d call that and “existential western” and APPALOOSA is in that vein.

Both these films try to take a somewhat realistic look at life and human nature.

The western of the golden age were often sanitized and glorious in the way real life rarely is. There is always some bad in the good guy and vice versa and there are really no happy endings.

Jeremy Irons is Randall Bragg, the head of a particularly nasty bunch of thugs hired by the milquetoast town council of Appaloosa to defend the ranchers against Indian attacks.

Unfortunately the gang becomes more of a problem, running roughshod over the town; raping pillaging killing, that sort of barbaric tomfoolery.

Enter director, producer writer and star Ed Harris as gunfighter Virgil Cole. He and his partner Everitt Hitch (Viggo Mortenson) take over the job of protecting the town.

Cole is something of an anti-hero, stoic and tough but with a glint of humor and just a hint of self-doubt. Everett is the consummate sidekick, the one man who comes closest to understanding Cole. The two are something like a more deadly version of Butch and Sundance.

Allie French (Renee Zellweger) is the fetching but faithless damsel who becomes Cole’s, and indirectly, Hitch’s Achilles heel. She’s afraid not evil and she’s the impetus for the end of the story and symbolically the end of an era. These men are a dying breed; like the Norse god Odin after battle of Ragnarok. Cole and Hitch are gunfighters in a world that has given up honor for cynical compromise.

As Odin’s gods passed on, as the Elves left Middle Earth for the Gray Havens the ride into the sunset represents the changing world.

If that all sounds heavy, don’t worry. APPALOOSA is as entertaining as they come.

Fine acting casting (I think it’s Mortensen’s best role) dialogue camera work and resolution without a sugar coating.




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