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A blog for poetry, prose, and pop culture.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Movie Review: Appaloosa

Hey all,

We headed out this weekend to catch Appaloosa, starring Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, and Jeremy Irons. There were two primary reasons for me to go watch this film. One, it is a pleasant distraction from the chaos at work right now with the passing of Frank, whom I posted about yesterday.

Frank's store is in upheaval, and my store took it hard as well with him having managed it a short while back and many of my crew still knowing him. Many of the managers and crew are very emotional about such a thing, understandably. I am pitching in help where I can with what I can, but this thing takes time.

The second reason is my unabashed love of the Western genre. I love Westerns and anything that gets a theatrical release gets my support to hopefully revive that genre at the box office. One or two Westerns a year isn't so much to ask I think.

Anyway, back to the review. The premise of Appaloosa is simple, two hard nose wandering lawmen, Harris and Mortensen, are hired by the town of Appaloosa to bring order. A cattle baron, played by Jeremy Irons, controls the town and his men have made it unsafe to live. The two of them set up strict laws and enforce them, with no second thought to shooting or beating up a man with little provocation.

Harris meets a widow newly arrived to town, played by Zellweger, who has a penchant for being around men in control. Harris, cold and alone for most of his life, falls for her but doesn't really know how to be in love, causing tension between the two as Zellweger's faithfulness is shaky at best.

Finally, the two lawmen get someone to testify against Irons and they bring him in for a trial, though after the conviction his men arrange his escape by kidnapping Zellweger and using her against Harris. This leads the two men to a showdown between Irons and his newly hired guns.

After the shootout, Irons escapes to the east and arranged a presidential pardon, only to return to Appaloosa a "changed" man. Unable to prosecute him legally, he divides Harris and Zellweger more, as her and Irons had gotten close during his escape. In the end, Viggo and Harris must decide to follow the letter of the law, or break the law and kill Irons without jurisdiction.

There is a lot to like about this movie. Directed by Ed Harris himself, its really an old school western. A slow simmering plot that pulls itself out, building tension and suspense, it takes its time to establish each character. Ed Harris is great as the stoic gunfighter who tries to educate himself about his station, but in the end is just a gunfighter. Viggo is the quiet level headed one that counters Harris, who has flashes of violent outbursts. Jeremy Irons is playing a character he has played for years, the smooth talking, cold hearted villain, who presents a good face to the world, but hides a darker heart. Zellweger plays a really interesting character. A front runner who always looks out for herself, you want to believe she loves Harris. But truthfully, you think she loves herself more.

I really dug the gunfights in this film as well. No fancy elaborate shootouts, they are short, close quartered, and violent. They feel like real shootouts because people die suddenly and without pomp or circumstance. Just brutal and fast.

You can also see a lot of John Ford inspired shots throughout the cinematography. Large sweeping shots with the character at the bottom of the screen, opening the vastness of the landscape behind them. Creating a wide open world, showcasing the huge vistas that made up the Old West. The camera moves in deliberation with the films pacing. No quick whips or pans, avoiding quick cuts except when highlighting the quickness of the gunfight. Just great film making.

Not to say this film was perfect mind you. It is an old school western. For many viewers the pacing may be to slow, the storyline not dynamic enough. Don't expect a lot of gunfights or chases, or any of the normal fare associated with a Western. This doesn't have any of that flash. It is deliberate. My only real complaint is that Ed Harris' character and Viggo Mortensen's character were too similar. Both quiet gunfighters, the characters could be interchangeable. While it makes sense on terms of the storytelling, for two consummate loners to find a common purpose together, it doesn't really make character development any easier.

Personally, I liked the film, easily ranking it in my top 10 of the year so far. Any excuse to see a Western is a good one I think. Oh, I also think I am going to start adding the film's poster to the review, like I started with the Rewind. I think it will be fun and add some visual excitement to the page.

End of Line.

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