“Life has a way of making the foreseeable that which never happens…and the unforeseeable that which your life becomes.” I knew when I heard that line that Appaloosa was gonna be a great movie, and it was.
Ed Harris (A History of Violence) impresses in front of and behind the lens as both star and director of Appaloosa, a Western tale about a pair of most unique lawmen. Harris is Virgil Cole, a “clean up” man of sorts. He and his partner Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortenson, A History of Violence) make their living by cleaning up small towns when law enforcement becomes overwhelmed by the local criminal element. Virgil and Everett’s services are required in Appaloosa after the sheriff is murdered by outlaw Randall Bragg when he tries to apprehend some of his men. Bragg and his men treat Appaloosa like their playground, wreaking havoc and menacing the townspeople. Virgil and Everett arrive on the scene in big boy fashion and get to work cracking down on Bragg and his gang. Viggo Mortenson is wonderful as Everett, Virgil’s quiet but lethal sidekick. He and his 8 gauge shotgun are all the muscle Virgil requires. Things seem to go well enough initially, but there is a tension throughout the movie. The town is like a bubbling cauldron, and you know that eventually that pot is going to overflow. Virgil is stoic and appropriately dispassionate. In order for him to be successful at what he does, he must have no fear of death, and no ties to anything or anyone that can be used against him. All that goes out the window when Allison French rolls into town, played by the heavily botoxed Renee Zellweger. She seems harmless enough, but as it’s been said, a woman can be more dangerous than a pistol. When a witness testifies against Bragg, Virgil appears to have rid Appaloosa of his nemesis, but alas, if you look back at the quote which starts the movie, things are never that simple. Virgil’s love for Allison is used against him, and he and Everett are put in a position where they must make some tough choices.
Appaloosa was a compelling movie. Every facet of the film was superbly acted, from beginning to end. Harris and Mortensen exude a quiet yet powerful air of confidence without seeming like rogue lawmen, though in many respects that is what they are. There is something attractive about their plain, salt-of-the-earth manner. Jeremy Irons made a dastardly cowboy, amoral and unapologetic. Just a good old-fashioned Western and a great movie. Even if you don’t think Westerns are your thing, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.