Movie review: Appaloosa

Zack Rosenblatt ('09)/Eastside Entertainment Editor

Rated R for some violence and language

115 minutes

In Theaters: September 19

Released to DVD: January 13 

Directed by Ed Harris

Starring: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, Timothy Spall

The decline of the Western genre has become more and more evident in the film industry. With the exception of 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma, there has not been a half-decent Western film since Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven back in 1992.  Appaloosa is a valiant effort to re-establish the once beloved genre, but in the end its simply not strong enough to bring Westerns back into the mind of Hollywood.

The film, based off of a 2005 novel of the same name by Robert B. Parker, is set in 1882 and takes place in a small town called Appaloosa. The story revolves around city marshal Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and his partner Everett Hitch (Mortensen) who are hired to police the small town of Appaloosa. Hitch and Cole are the best of friends, and long-time partners, that would do anything for one another. The dynamic between Hitch and Cole is reminiscent of what is now commonly called a “bromance,” as the duo would never allow anything, especially a woman, to come between them.

Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen last appeared together in 2005’s A History of Violence, and this contributed to an undeniable on-screen chemistry that made the relationship between Everett Hitch and Virigil Cole all the more convincing. However, Harris’ incorporation of a romance really dropped this film down a level. The character of Allison French (Zellweger) was downright annoying, forced and terribly cast. The view of Renee Zellweger as a top-notch actress is now completely non-existent after a string of terrible performances, most notably Leatherheads, and Appaloosa further proves Zellweger to be on a steep decline.

The primary reason Cole and Hitch were hired was to protect the town from a ruthless outlaw named Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), who has, along with his band of criminals, brought bloodshed into the town.  Cole’s and Hitch’s primary objective is to bring this madman to justice for killing the town’s previous city marshal. They seem to be making progress until Allison French comes along and threatens to thwart any chance they have at catching Bragg.

This was vintage Jeremy Irons, and he was perfectly cast as the film’s antagonist. If Ed Harris (as the director) had focused a bit more on Iron’s character and less on Zellweger’s, the film would have been better. Bragg’s only motive is to have complete control of everything, no matter the consequences, and Irons effortlessly portrays this thirst for power and indifference to what is considered morally acceptable.

Harris provided a solid performance as Virgil Cole, but as the director he didn’t seem right for the job. His decision to include the romantic subplot involving Zellweger proved detrimental and the film would have done better with some expansion on the back stories of the main characters. Rarely does a near two-hour film need to be longer, but another thirty minutes or so could have done wonders for this film. Viggo Mortensen was, without question, the star of this film and he continues to establish himself as one of the best actors around.

Considering the talent at hand, I expected a lot more from the film but in the end, there were some solid performances to keep the film worth watching. The lame romantic sub-plot aside, there were some enjoyable old-fashioned Western shoot-outs. It was an entertaining film, but the flashes of greatness were plagued by the rushed plot and mediocre character development.

Grade: 2.5/4