Top critical review
17 people found this helpful
should have been great, ended up a misfire
on 30 May 2009
I have always been a fan of Westerns, everything from My Darling Clementine to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, but of recent times the so called modern Westerns have suffered from a lack of quality and drive. For every Unforgiven there is a Young Guns, for every Open Range there is a 3:10 To Yuma (remake, not original). So I tend to approach the more modern Westerns with a little trepidation.
Appaloosa is written by, directed by and stars Ed Harris as Virgil Cole, a lawman for hire who arrives in the town of the title to find it suffering at the hands of Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) a local rancher who is something of a law unto himself. The townsfolk appear unable to do anything about this, as Bragg has also killed the town marshal, and so hire Cole and his partner Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) to be their new lawmen. Cole and Hitch soon stamp their brutal authority on the town, leading to an inevitable showdown with Bragg. Unfortunately the arrival in town of Allison French (Rene Zellweger) further complicates matters when she catches the eye of both men, putting a strain on their friendship.
The film is something of a slow burner, establishing both character and location with an easy style, but whilst it initially promises much, it ultimately fails to deliver, and with a top notch cast like this, that is a real shame. The characters seem to be rather stereotypical, with Cole as the uncompromising man of violence looking for something else in the later stages of his life, Hitch his loyal but honest to a fault friend, Bragg the renegade rancher terrorising the townsfolk, and French the woman who comes between the two friends. The film looks lovely, and some of the locations are truly breathtaking, but what plot there is seems a little weak, with the film never being able to decide whether it is an action film, a chase movie or a character study. Harris and Mortensen are good but not great in their roles, never really coming to life but always watchable, but Zellweger as French is an annoying presence throughout and Irons as Bragg is woefully underused (it's Jeremy Irons for Gods sake!).
The film draws obvious comparisons, most notably with Kevin Costner's Open Range, dealing as it does with several similar themes, such as the transformative nature of violence, friendship and the civilising aspects of women, but Appaloosa suffers by being put firmly in the shade by the far superior Open Range. All in all, something of a misfire.