The first time I saw HBO’s Deadwood, I was swept away by it’s horrible language and graphic violence, and haven’t looked back since. Because HBO canceled Deadwood a season early – thereby guaranteeing themselves a place in Hell – I’m always on the lookout for Westerns that can live up to it, or at least try.
Appaloosa is based off the 2005 novel by Robert B. Parker, about two lawmen-for-hire who come to defend a small western town from badman Randall Bragg. They spend their days talking tough and pistol-whipping bad guys until seductive temptress Renee Zellweger (who should probably stop doing movies) comes to town and tests their friendship in ways they never thought possible.
The biggest thing this movie has going for it is the charisma between Ed Harris’ Virgil Cole and Viggo Mortensen’s Everett Hitch. They’ve come together and created two psychologically good friends. That is, they can spend most of their time together not feeling like they have to talk to each other. Their idiosyncrasies are so internalized that they can deal with each other without having to think about it. It’s this relationship that saves the movie from the moment Renne Zellweger steps off that train with her Bridget Jones accent and weird, bunched-up face.
I will give Ms. Zellweger one thing (even though she sucks), her character was much more rounded-out than the run of the mill damsel in distress you normally see in Western movies. The same is true of Harris and Mortensen. This is why Deadwood was such a great show; these movies are so much more when they focus on the characters, rather than the cattle rustler who gets called out by the sheriff… or, you know, whatever.
There are too many screenwriters out there who read a book, and when they try adapting it for the screen, don’t know what to cut, so they try and cram everything in. You see this in movies like Battlefield: Earth and Battlefield: Earth, and the atrocious Battlefield: Earth. You can’t stick 500 pages of book into two hours of movie. I felt like Appaloosa took a different approach. They filmed a movie that followed the book almost page for page, and then cut out chunks of it to meet a two-hour runtime.
There were parts of the movie where the narrative would take this big leap forward and really throw me off. When Renee Zellweger is introduced to Ed Harris (SPOILER ALERT), it’s like, “Hi Mr. Harris, my name’s Renee.” “Well howdy, ma’am.” “Did you hear, Mr. Mortensen? Mr. Harris and I are moving in together.” Oh yeah, they’re moving in to-bwaaaahhhh? How did this happen? They’ve known each other two hours. The last time I moved in with a woman I had known for only two hours I woke up the next morning in a bathtub full of ice.
This isn’t the only example. You’ll see it toward the end, as Harris, Mortensen and Irons enter their showdown. In the end, I felt like there were chunks of the movie that I was missing. And while the two leads, joined by the good-in-everything-he-does-even-Alien-vs-Predator-and-that’s-saying-something Lance Henriksen, put in great performances, the zig-zagging plot was a little too distracting. I give this one a B-. Rent it on your fancy-shmancy AT&T U-Verse machine, but don’t fret if you miss it’s run in theaters.