Thursday, September 25, 2008


In my last semester at school, I was lucky enough to take a course on Western films, and the experience, if anything gave me a real idea of what those films entailed, rather than just the scattershot elements people of a younger generation associate with them (shootouts, horses, reluctant hero, bad men). So while it may not be fast-paced enough for those trained on films of today, Ed Harris's "Appaloosa" is a solid modern western that truly earns the "old-fashioned" designation likely to be mentioned in every reaction to it. Things are kept simple and laid-back, with Harris and Viggo Mortensen playing two gunmen with a penchant for protecting towns in need of help, Jeremy Irons as the villain doing the hasslin', and the execrable Miss Zellweger as the lady caught in the middle of it all. Harris and Irons are just fine, but Mortensen -- as usual -- outshines everyone even with minimal dialogue, and even Zellweger avoids crippling the movie whenever she's on screen, so I guess that's something. Strong, straightforward recent westerns "Open Range" and the "3:10 to Yuma" remake had old-fashioned elements to them, but "Yuma" especially was paced like an action film that just happened to be set in the old West. Here, Harris acknowledges the pacing and parameters of the old-time westerns, giving just as much screentime to the Zellweger shenanigans and focusing more on the relationship between Mortensen and Harris than the very (effectively) brief shootouts. The lack of complexity or perpetual thrills probably won't earn "Appaloosa" any diehard fans -- it's the type of film that earns more nods of approval than impassioned cheers -- but it's a simple, satisfying yarn with characters I wouldn't mind revisiting in another film.


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