Friday, October 03, 2008
'Appaloosa': Wild Horses Couldn't Keep Me Away
Its fall and time for another attempt at a classic Western. Last fall there were two such attempts (Russell Crowe's "3:10 to Yuma" and the more mystical 'The Outlaw Jesse James'). This fall's attempt at this genre of film is Ed Harris's (director) 'Appaloosa'. With an all star cast of Ed himself playing the City Marshall Virgil Cole, and Viggo Mortensen playing his sidekick 'Hitch', with Jeremy Iron's playing the aptly named bad dude Bragg, and Rene Zellwegger thrown in as the love interest, this film doesn't lack for star power. It is also immaculately and accurately filmed and clocks in under two hours with an R rating (its a Western, so there are some varmits that need shootin' right from the start).
The plot is pretty simple, as in any good Western. Westerns most often attempt to reduce things to the lowest common denominator--- basic human instincts (lust, greed, power, jealousy etc.), basic character developments (the bad guys are truly bad, the good guys, while not perfect, are way better), basic plots (the Sheriff must clean up the town, and vies with his side kick for the only eligible woman in town), and basic dialogue (the only truly memorable line in the film is when Virgil is lying on his back shot in the knee and says to Hitch who, along with two bad guys are also shot-- 'Well darn, everyone could shoot'). While the Sheriff would like to learn to use big words like 'sequestered', it is a work in progress, as he reads Emerson and tries to achieve a vocabulary transplant. Things are kept simple, rather like the spartan existence in an old Western town. Things are dusty, dirty. There is drinking, herding, shooting, lusting-- all in a day's span. Basic.
What makes this Western different is not only the quality of the acting, but the interesting menage a trois going on between the widow Mrs. Allison French and the Sheriff and his Deputy. Only the Deputy is smart enough to steer mostly clear of this woman, not only because Virgil has dibs on her, but because as Everett Hitch tells Virgil, this woman simply wants to be with the lead stallion-- whoever that may be. She's not exactly likely to be the faithful type if one slips from one's position of power. This sagebrush saga has all the typical elements of the classic Western including a neat resolution of the plot's tensions at the end.
I will not spoil the ending of the movie for you, but I will say this-- If you liked 'Lonesome Dove' the award winning TV series, and you liked old movies like 'High Noon' or more recent films like 'Unforgiven', this movie is right up your alley partner. It's better than either of the two Westerns offered last fall. So hitch up your wagon and get yourself over to Appaloosa. You've got to love a film that ends with an old fashioned testosteroned honor challenge!