I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t know a whole hell of a lot about westerns.
I know there have been countless classic western movies that built the reputations of actors like Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and…umm…Emilio Estevez (see: Young Guns). But I can’t claim to have seen all, or even a large portion, of them so when I say that Appaloosa, the 2008 release starring Viggo Mortensen, Jeremy Irons, Renee Zellweger and Ed Harris who also directed and helped write the screenplay, was a pretty good film in my opinion. It’s no classic, I can say that with certainty, but as far as westerns go I can’t say it sucked either.
Appaloosa is the story of a small New Mexican town by the same name that has been living in fear of a rancher named Randall Bragg (Irons) and his gang of hoodlums who are believed to have just murdered Jack Bell, the Appaloosa’s marshal.
In an attempt to free the town from this unpleasant rule the town’s leaders hire gunmen Virgil Cole and his partner (in a work-related sense…I think) Everett Hitch (Harris and Mortensen respectively) to get rid of Bragg.
Around this same time a flirtatious widow named Allison French, played by the scrunchy-faced Renee Zellweger, comes to town much to the delight of Harris and several others in town including Hitch and Bragg.
Her arrival sets of string of awkward 40 Year Old Virgin-esque moments for Harris’ character who claims to have never had such feelings for a woman being that he typically sticks to “whores and squaws.” Harris and Zellweger end up buying a house together but Harris’ determination to have Bragg hung for the marshals murder keeps the two of them apart despite their strong feeling for each other. Bragg is eventually sentenced but ends up escaping when some outlaws he hired kidnap French and refuse to release her until Bragg is let go.
Bragg then returns to town having been pardoned for his crimes and begins running the local hotel and sneaking around with French. Seeing that his time and work opportunities are running out in Appaloosa, Hitch decides to leave for greener pastures after killing Bragg (in the first recorded occurrence of reverse-cockblockery) so that his buddy Cole can stick around and have French to himself, at least for a while longer.
So, yeah, the story is a little weird at times with Harris switching back and forth from total relentless badass lawman to old guy who’s awkward around women and has a less-than-adequate grasp of the English language but I still think it’s worth watching.
I give it a “QUEEN” rating because even though I thought the whole atmosphere of the films sucked me in pretty well, kinda transporting me back to that time, the sometimes-sappy story, most notably the Cole-French relationship parts, took a little bit away. When I think westerns I think of hardened old cowboys, not hardened old cowboys who at times act like pre-pubescent cowboys. Still, definitely worth a watch.
Kevin Meehan is a writer living in Pittsburgh