Friday, December 30, 2011

Appaloosa

2008, R, 115 min.
IMDB says... Two friends hired to police a small town that is suffering under the rule of a rancher find their job complicated by the arrival of a young widow.

The 73rd Virgin says... Haven't read the book or anything by Robert B. Parker, “The Dean of American Crime Fiction”, so they say. Pete Travers of Rolling Stone blurbs the movie hard as “thunderous action and nail biting suspense”. My nails are fine, and I felt no pounding pulse. There are some good shootouts with good sound effects and the believable outcome of whomever is the most meticulous is the most successful.

In most ways this is a very traditional western with casual pacing, a simple story, and well-aged cliches. There are no jump cut edits or modern gee-whiz camera effects. Director of Photography Dean Semler is responsible for the best-filmed “western” I've ever seen, “The Road Warrior”, and this has similarly skilled positioning of the viewer so you know where the characters are and where the action is.

It begins with "Lonesome Dove" meets "El Dorado" in Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch who are aging West Point grads who have been teamed up for gun work, mostly law enforcement, for 12 years. Both are groomed, meticulous, careful of speech, dignified and very good at killing. Director, producer Ed Harris and especially Viggo Mortensen are excellent as the heroes. Mortensen's goofy haircut and persistent tan line from his hat are a nice bit of authenticity. Jeremy Irons, Lance Henricksen and a host of salty character actors are the evil Randall Bragg gang who kill a marshal at the beginning and thus bring these two lawmen to the town of Appaloosa.
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It then introduces a deceptively wholesome female in Mrs. French, who apparently feels the need to attach herself to the most powerful man in any room, giving her something of a mob movie doll aspect. I have to admire how Renee Zellweger plays this very interesting character, for a western. Family Guy recently spoofed her “scrunch-face” and she looks like she's in the middle of an allergic reaction, but she's still very good.

I'm used to a lot of horns and strings with my westerns, but this is the first time I've heard a Miles Davis-style trumpet with a wah-wah mute inject a surreal or silly noir-ish element right before a gun fight. Very strange. But as I say, the shootouts are good.
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The closing credits begin with a Tom Petty song that's a bit out of place, followed by Ed Harris singing - about an octave lower than his acting voice - his own composition, “You'll Never Leave My Heart”, with explicit lyrics that pretty much describe his relationship with Mrs. French. Very, very strange.

This does not have the over-the-top explicit blood-letting and visceral vengeance of its recent relative “Open Range”, but it's also not as satisfying, which may say more about me than how most viewers will react to it. I was mostly put off by the utterly traditional first hour, but I have to admit, it gets a little more adventurous as it gets near its 1 hour 55 minute closing mark; the gunfights get better and the boys are a little less dignified and more humorous in their discussion of Mrs. French's wandering eye. Three sheep is a little stingy, maybe.

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