I didnít grow up with westerns.Iím from New York.A western is something that happens in Jersey.
Colorado, Wyoming, the Montana Territory, thatís a whole other world.Cowboys and Indians, Sheriffs and rustlers, not my thing.
Slowly, though, Iím changing.
Perhaps thereís some credit due to the realistic way some of the more recent westerns have made that has brought some credibility to the genre.Itís no longer good guys and bad guys.Thereís now plenty of gray shades to fill in the otherwise dim color palate.
Of all the westerns in the past twenty years, Clint Eastwoodís epic Unforgiven did the most to both break the mold, while similarly advancing the way a 19th century period film involving the American west can be presented.
And now, with Appaloosa, Ed Harris has advanced over the bar set by Eastwood.
This is a western western.Plenty of visuals of fantastic natural scenery, enough shoot Ďem ups to scare the faint of heart, and a relationship between unsuspecting individuals who didnít expect love to get in the way.Thereís also cowboys, Indians, town fathers, whores, horses, trains, and lawmen.
While the principal actors in Appaloosa are just great, with solid performances by Ed Harris as Sheriff Virgil Cole, Viggo Mortenson as Deputy Everett Hitch, Renee Zellwegger as Mrs. Allison French, and Jeremy Irons as the despicable Randall Bragg, itís the dialogue and tone that advances this film beyond standard fare.
Ironsí gang of bandits has been having their way with the town and townsfolk in Appaloosa for some time.The town fathers decide to contract out law enforcement to the team of Cole and Hitch, noted gunslingers respected for their discipline, and decorum.Over time, conditions improve, Cole and Hitch seem settled in town, though their mission remains the arrest of Bragg for a brutal murder, a murder presented clearly and simply at the start of the film.
Allison French and her worldly charms suggest something more than meets the eye, though Cole falls madly for her, while sustaining his trusting relationship with Deputy Hitch.Hitch offers narrative points at the top and bottom of this film, just enough to get us started, and then enough to close us out, and contemplate whether we have witnessed a story about character, love, trust, honor, or faith.
Or perhaps all of them.
Appaloosa may go down as the ultimate film about wing men.Mortensonís Hitch is not only our narrator, he is the filmís voice.He shepards Cole through difficult situations, provides him with short lessons in grammar, and ultimately provides Cole with his greatest challenge.
While there are moments that might seem to drag, this film makes quite a bit from the simple dialogue.There are lines started by one character and finished by another.There are scenes when a nod or a head twist provide more action than most contemporary chases.And there is tension, always resolved, not always cleanly, that exceeds what we go through in our modern lives.
Appaloosa represents another return to period film, if not period filmmaking.Shots seem well selected, dialogue is lean and clear.Characters are consistent throughout, and twists and turns hold our attention, and neither seem out of place, nor clearly telegraphed.
Harris has made a strong film, and may well find himself in contention come Oscar time.