DVD REVIEW: Appaloosa

Directed by Ed Harris
(New Line Home Video)

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Co-scripted, produced and directed by Ed Harris, this film is obviously a personal project for the long time actor. Happily, he was able to get some other mighty fine actors to support him in the effort, making Appaloosa an interesting study in the cultural mores of the Old West.

Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch (Harris and Viggo Mortensen respectively), a pair of ‘Peace Keepers,’ travel to the town of Appaloosa to break the tyrannical hold of the murderous rancher Randall Bragg, played by the gravelly voiced Jeremy Irons.

This story portrays a number of didactic themes that have as much relevance today as they did in the 1850s. All the main characters oscillate between themes of genteel society versus brutal violence, love versus security, and truth versus loyalty.

Though practitioners of brutal ‘gun work,’ both Cole and Hitch wrap themselves in genteel clothes, literature, and conversation, as does the scoundrel rancher Bragg. The adversary’s dialogue is quick and biting, a duel of wits in the same vein as the light speed gun battles that are represented. The scenes of violence are brutally brief, neither drawn out nor celebrated as in so many westerns.

Ms. Alison French, played by Renee Zellweger, arrives in Appaloosa and is immediately attracted to Marshall Cole, impressing the old gun fighter with her own genteel ways. But as soon as another man in a stronger position reveals himself, she is easily led astray. Explaining that she is afraid of everything, from having no money to having no place to live, it is revealed that love is not her driving motivator, but security. As one soiled dove puts it, ‘Out here, love’s pretty hard for a woman. Men worry about love,’ which is key in understanding the interplay of love and security as well as truth and loyalty.

Well acted, the film evokes a distinctly historic feel with the language, setting, and wardrobe. Be sure to listen for the odd soundtrack as well; an accompaniment of jazz horns and lounge music at parts. An enjoyable film for those looking for a contemporary take on the Western.

Kenneth Joachim

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