Three riders on horseback, gallop over a hill into view. Always the best way to start a classic Western.You know they’re riding away from trouble – or into it. This time into it. Ed Harris’ Appaloosa is structured in the time honored tradition of the troubled town Western where lawlessness reigns, also a favorite of the Japanese samurai classics.Law for hire is secured to clean up the town.
This Ed Harris directed western though, tries to be more character study, rather than action Western. And the complicated relationship between Harris’ Virgil Cole and Viggo Mortensen’s Everett Hitch elevates the movie above your run-of-the mill western. But only a little,
The narration is stilted.Thankfully the voice-over makes only a brief appearance at the beginning and the end. Even that was almost too much. And some of the sets seemed a little cheap. This is ok in a tv Lone Ranger episode where they had only the one rock to ride around all day. But we’d expect more from a bankrolled film production with some star power. Though this is not one of Harris’s better roles, Mortensen does an interesting turn as the loyal side-kick podner. And he’s always pretty good anyway, no? He’s the deeper thinker and is the more observant of the two. Mortensen’s Everett Hitch prefers to play second fiddle to the more taciturn Virgil Cole. Cole loses his head over Zellwegger’s Allison French (and I lose my head over her mannerisms): a woman of some”culture”, but at bottom a woman who can only make her way through the world protected by a man – preferably the Alpha-male of the territory. In trying to explain to himself (and to Everett) what it is about Allison, he can only say she’s neat, clean and “She chews her food good”
The consummately irritating Renee Zellwegger plays an odd role that almost works for her here. But I’d rather…not. And I enjoyed Jeremy Irons in is role as the bad guy (rich-rancher-killer) – though a smaller role – more than I have in a long time.
There are other things that may turn off audiences: the slower pace, for instance, which is never a problem for me. Probably you have to be a voracious Western lover to come away completely satisfied with viewing this one. For someone like that, there’s certainly enough to like.