Appaloosa is Ed Harris’ take on the throwback western, where the good guys ride in to town from the hills, and usually end up leaving the same way.
Harris steps behind the camera for the first time since his brilliant Pollock and delivers a subtle film with enormous intensity. Virgil Cole (Harris) and his partner, Everett Hitch (played with familiar swagger by Viggo Mortensen) are been hired to get Jeremy Irons (devilishly fun) and his gang out from the small town of Appaloosa.
Virgil is a legend, he’s well known for ridding towns of scum, he’s a great shot and an even better killer. Everett has more feeling. He strides around with a huge 8-gauge shotgun, ready for action at a moment’s notice. The two make a great team and when they kill their first few men, it’s business as usual. But as Irons tightens the screws, things start to heat up. The introduction of Allison French (Reene Zelweger) puts an interesting spin on things, too.
I liked Appaloosa for several reasons. Virgil and Everett don’t waste time fighting over Allison; the bad guys don’t always get caught, and so on. Sure, there are a few wild-west-showdowns, but that’s what you came for right?
I loved how Harris gives his actors time to play with a scene, giving them long takes and great dialogue. Mortensen is the one you can’t take your eyes off of, but you have to credit Harris for letting Mortensen work his magic.
The violence comes quick, and it comes lethal. There is never a question of “should we do this?”, it is just done. Appaloosa has its flaws, but for the most part, it is subtly enjoyable.
This is a great setup for Mortensen’s next role. Playing the lead in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road isn’t going to be easy. But based on his performance in Appaloosa, I’ve got a pretty good feeling. B+