Octobe r9, 2008

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Appaloosa (R)
Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are if not the fastest guns in the West then certainly in the top ten in Appaloosa, a real giddyup dust-and-shoot-out Western set in the 1880s.

Randall Bragg (a wonderfully grizzled Jeremy Irons) is the troublemaker in these here parts. He owns a ranch outside of Appaloosa, New Mexico, and when he comes into town him and his boys push the Appaloosa folk around, wrecking stuff and taking things without asking. The town fathers hire gunmen Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and his associate Everett Hitch (Mortensen) to serve as city marshal, which more or less means to come in and do whatever necessary to cut Bragg down to size. This is not their first day on the fast-draw job and, after shooting up a few guys and finding a witness to earlier killings by Bragg, Virgil and Everett appear to have Bragg headed to an execution after a speedy trial.

But unlike what we suspect has happened in previous towns, Virgil starts to take an interest in settling down in Appaloosa, settling down with Allison French (Reneé Zellweger), a pretty naïve-seeming widow who is new in town. Think having his eye on Allison’s bustle might take Virgil’s eye off the Randall Bragg ball?

Dusty town, I’m-not-going-to-say-it-twice encounters between lawmen and scoundrels, wooden town center in the middle of an empty landscape, trains, horses — you’ve got all the Western movie conventions here. And while this doesn’t have the 3:10 to Yuma blockbusterishness about it, Appaloosa does carry with it the dusty thrill of the classic Westerns, as well as the wry humor of the late 1960s and on in Western genres. This movie carries a bit of the spirit, if more quietly expressed, of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (it’s a fitting tribute to the late great Paul Newman that a new generation is keeping the genre alive, hopefully encouraging younger moviegoers to discover him through that movie). Mortensen and Harris aren’t the gleaming beauties that Newman and Robert Redford were but they have their own kind of gritty charm and extremely good chemistry. As talented as they are apparent, they are a delight to watch together. B+

Rated R for some violence and language. Directed by Ed Harris and written by Robert Knott and Harris (from a novel by Robert Parker), Appaloosa is an hour and 48 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros. Pictures.