Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, Timothy Spall, James Gammon, Lance Henriksen, Adam Nelson
Written by: Ed Harris, Robert Knott
Directed by: Ed Harris
MPAA Rating: R for some violence and language
Running Time: 114
Date: 09/05/2008

Appaloosa (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Men on Horses

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For his second film as director, Ed Harris -- whose first film Pollock (2000) won an Oscar -- chooses a terrific bread-and-butter Western, based on a novel by Robert B. Parker. Harris stars as Virgil Cole, a gunfighter who sells his services as marshal for troubled towns. He arrives in Appaloosa, circa 1882, with his partner/deputy Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) and signs on to take down the local villain, Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons). Unfortunately, a lady, Allison French (Renée Zellweger), arrives in town, latches onto Virgil and causes no end of trouble. Harris occasionally lets loose with a beautiful, sustained, widescreen shot, using all the space in the frame, but also cuts corners with more traditional, choppy, short shots and close-ups. His story carries echoes of Rio Bravo and Budd Boetticher's Westerns, but keeps moving along at its own pace. Best of all, it contains some delightful male-oriented dialogue; these cowboys speak the truth, and as quickly and succinctly as possible, much like their earlier counterpart Randolph Scott. The Zellweger character is a curiosity; she's occasionally despicable, and it seems like odd casting, unless Harris was counting on audiences being annoyed with her by-now-familiar squinty-eyed and pursed-lips delivery. Appaloosa doesn't break any new ground, as did Unforgiven or The Assassination of Jesse James, nor is it as snappy as 3:10 to Yuma (2007), but it's very solid and a great deal of fun for fans of the genre. Tom Petty provides the closing credits song. (The film opened October 3, but I missed the press screening and it took me a few weeks to catch up with it.)

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