out of Five
Running time: 115
Enjoyable, frequently offbeat western with an intriguing script and terrific performances from Harris and Mortensen.
What's it all about?
Set in 1882 New Mexico, Appaloosa stars Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen as gunslingers Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, who've made their reputations by bringing law and order to various towns in the untamed west. No sooner do they set foot in the small mining town of Appaloosa than the town's aldermen (including Timothy Spall) ask them to protect the town from vicious rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), who has recently gunned down a city marshall in cold blood.
Cole and Hitch accept the aldermen's offer and when they kill two of Bragg's men in a gunfight, the stage is set for a tense game of cat and mouse. Meanwhile, the arrival of a female piano player (Renee Zellweger as Allison French) threatens to come between the two men as they both fall under her spell.
Harris and Mortensen make a terrific onscreen duo as Cole and Hitch and their relationship is ultimately the most important thing in the film. There's also strong support from Jeremy Irons (proving once again that Brits make the best villains), while Renee Zellweger does a good job of keeping her character sympathetic, considering she's basically making a play for both men.
The script (co-written by Harris, who also directs) is genuinely intriguing, not least because it frequently takes a left turn and does something unexpected, though to reveal any more would spoil many of the film's pleasures. Suffice it to say that it refuses to serve up the usual Western cliches, opting for something more interesting instead.
The dialogue is extremely good throughout, particularly in the interplay between Harris and Mortensen. As a result, there are several lines that will stay with you, such as a judge advising a witness against Bragg to get out of town "now, while the bees are in the butter".
In short, Appaloosa is a hugely enjoyable Western, enlivened by an offbeat script and terrific central performances from Harris and Mortensen. Highly recommended.