Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen star as two talented town tamers in Appaloosa. The movie hit the big screen this weekend and I took one of my sons to the first showing early this afternoon. We both had a good time, and my trust and confidence in the stars was well deserved.
The movie is based on the novel written by bestselling author Robert B. Parker. Parker has been writing the adventures of Spenser, a private eye born in Laramie, Wyoming, for years, and Spenser is as rough and tumble as any gunfighter in the Old West. Lately, the author has successfully dipped his quill into the Western arena.
I read the book when it came out a few years ago and had a good time with it. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the two heroes in the novel, and was pleased to see it reflected in the movie. Ed Harris plays Virgil Cole, one of the most feared and respected lawmen in the Old West. Viggo Mortensen stars as Everett Hitch, Cole’s dedicated and deadly right hand man.
The book creates a tight plot line with a lot of twists and turns. When I read it, I saw how easily it could become a screenplay. Parker writes lean, muscular prose. Obviously Ed Harris saw the same thing because he negotiated the rights to direct and star in the film.
Appaloosa starts off with a bang. Three of them, in fact. Bragg, a powerful man in the small but growing town of Appaloosa, faces the town marshal and defends two of his men that raped and killed a man and his wife. When the marshal doesn’t take no for an answer, Bragg kills the marshal and his two deputies.
Virgil and Everett arrive and Harris takes advantage of those moments to establish sweeping shots of the desolate countryside. Harris stays primarily with the characters and the action, but there are a lot of opportunities to shoot the sweeping landscape. The action takes place in Appaloosa, outside of town, in the hills and mountains, and in another small town with Mexican architecture.
I loved the detailed Old West setting. The bar and buildings look and feel well researched. The house Virgil is buying on the outside of town is incredibly small by today’s standards, but Allie (Renee Zellweger) acts excited about having it built.
Of all the characters in the movie, Zellweger has the hardest time pulling off her role. The character is complicated because she bounces between being a sympathetic and naïve woman and a cold and calculating one. This type of female character often shows up in Parker’s work, so long-time fans won’t be surprised to watch her in action. However, Zellweger’s performance actually softens the character from the book.
Parker likes showing the dichotomy between the strong, silent male and one that can be twisted around a conniving woman’s little finger. Many of his characters have suffered through that in his novels. That paradigm is understated and succinct in the movie, but it still works well.
The author has also penned a sequel that came out this year, Resolution. He has one more planned that will tie up Virgil and Everett’s saga.
The film’s action is compelling. The movie and the actors keep a lot of balls in play. The sound effects of the gunshots are especially well done. Many viewers might not be able to tell it, but the gunshots sound like heavy thumps, from coarse black powder rather than the cleaner burning cordite all of today’s rounds are made with.
There is a moment of brief nudity and the language is rough in a couple of places, but not in any way that will be overly offensive. I think Appaloosa is a modern tribute to yesterday’s Western movies in a lot of ways. The heroes are brave and noble, but they’re also flawed. Harris and Mortensen play those iconic lawmen to the hilt with a hint of swagger and elegance by the bushelful. If you’re a Western fan, this is a movie you’ll enjoy. And if you haven’t seen a Western in a while, this is one you don’t want to miss.