Appaloosa (2009)


  

Our rating: 3 out of 5

Rated: R


reviewed by: Charity Bishop

 

Westerns are not my thing, probably because there hasn't been a good one in a number of years. Various attempts are made by studios to recreate the great westerns of previous eras, but few of them succeed. Appaloosa comes closer than many because for once it avoids the clichéd Indian mysticism stereotype, but it is rather slow-moving.

 

The recent murders of the former sheriff of the budding town of Appaloosa by a notorious rancher has left local business owners wondering who will protect their establishment from lawless gunslingers. Appealing to Virgil Cole (Ed Harris), one of the fastest guns in the west, for protection, he is given the role of marshal over the town and the immediate surrounding area. Within hours, his talents are needed in order to arrest riffraff in the saloon, but the death of these men (when resisting arrest) lands him in trouble with the same rancher, Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) who popped the last lawman. There is a feud brewing, but in the meantime Cole is distracted by the arrival of the beautiful, recently widowed Allison French (Renee Zellweger). It doesn't take her long to flatter him into a courtship, but his loyal friend and deputy Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) suspects there is more to her than meets the eye.

 

When a witness turns up who agrees to testify against Brigg about the murders, Cole and Hitch make a daring arrest of Brigg that shocks the entire community, little realizing they are setting off a trail of events that will change all their lives forever. This film was directed by its leading man and carries a somewhat slack pace. There's more character development than action scenes, which may disappoint some viewers looking for numerous gunfights. I was never really bored with it, but did feel that in some ways the screenplay was lacking -- first, the character of Allison French is a little unbelievable, as it is implied that she doesn't waste time getting men into bed but claims she is not a prostitute -- which she isn't. But she may as well be, because by the end she has dallied with four or five different suitors on both sides of the law. One can hardly root for Cole to wind up with a woman we know is going to be unfaithful to him.

 

I have seen much more powerful performances from all the cast members, but will say that Jeremy Irons left the most vivid impression and it was fun to see Mortensen as a cowboy. There are enough twists, turns, courtroom dramas, kidnappings, and even a gunfight or two to keep the plot interesting. Which leaves the question of the R-rating. It originates from several bloody deaths, and a half dozen sexually-used f-words which felt rather out of place given the period setting. Allison teases Cole about his love life in non-graphic but flirtatious terms. He accuses her of sleeping with numerous men. The audience spies along with Cole a distant shot through a telescope of a man and woman cavorting nude in a river (backside nudity on both). We know Cole and Allison are sharing a hotel room, and suspect she is also sleeping with Brigg. There are several abuses of Jesus' name and other profanities.

 

Not being a fan of the genre it's hard for me to measure this against the epic westerns of the John Wayne era. It was an interesting film but nothing that really stood out to me as being remarkable or even particularly memorable. Still, the content is lighter than it could have been and it does avoid the typical political correctness that most modern westerns suffer from, so I cannot say I'm sorry to have seen it.