Directed by: Ed Harris
Premise: Two gunmen (Viggo Mortinson and Ed Harris) take over the law enforcement of a western town that is plagued by a criminal rancher (Jeremy Irons) and his thugs. Things get complicated when a widow (Renee Zellweger) moves into town.
What Works: Appaloosa is a successful Western. At first, the film deals with a lot of the familiar western characters and storylines seen in films like Tombstone, Stagecoach, and A Fistful of Dollars. But things start to open up as Renee Zellweger’s character arrives. Her presence disrupts the relationship between Mortinson and Harris’ characters but it’s all done very quietly. In terms of characters, Viggo Mortinson is the most interesting to watch, as a man who recognizes exactly what he is and has uncompromising loyalty to his friend. Mortinson plays it very cool and allows for the character to be fleshed out with silence and nuance. For those familiar with the western genre, Renee Zellweger’s role as an emotionally and sexually complex widow is a new twist on a traditional female role in the western and the implications of her character both for this film and for the genre are rather interesting to consider. She plays into the larger themes of the film, which deal with the changing face of the west as fast drawing lawmen are outmaneuvered by the expansion of business interests. The impending end of the west is extremely frightening to Mortinson’s character, a loner who cannot function in society, and how he deals with it drives the last third of the picture.
What Doesn’t: This is not an action-oriented western like Tombstone or last year’s remake of 3:10 to Yuma. Appaloosa is much slower and more about the fickle allegiances of the west. There is nothing wrong with that but viewers accustomed to the western as an action adventure might be let down.
Bottom Line: Appaloosa is solid film. It does not redefine the west or the western the way Dances With Wolves, The Searchers, Unforgiven, or The Proposition did but it is still a thoughtful film that will entertain and engage fans of the genre.
Episode: #214 (November 16, 2008)