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  Appaloosa Gun Work
Year: 2008
Director: Ed Harris
Stars: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, Timothy Spall, Lance Henriksen, Ariadna Gil, James Gammon, Tom Bower, Rex Lynn, Corby Greisenbeck, Adam Nelson, Bob L. Harris, Daniel Parker, Cerris Morgan-Moyer
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: New Mexico in the early 1880s and two lawmen for hire have heard word of a killing involving a town's marshall and his deputies, so head over to Appaloosa, as the place is called, and put their services up for a price. The elder, Virgil Cole (Ed Harris), makes the deals while his right hand man, Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) looks on, his rifle seemingly glued to his hands. The townsfolk don't want any more trouble, and are willing to agree to these men's new laws to guarantee it, but the outlaw who is the source of the worry is rancher Bragg (Jeremy Irons), and he's not prepared to go without a fight...

Ed Harris continued in the ranks of movie stars directing themselves in their own projects with Appaloosa, which was not to be confused with the Marlon Brando western of the sixties, although this too was a western. And an extremely good-looking one at that, with some excellent cinematography that lent a touch of class to a tale that was actually pretty cynical and downbeat. Based on a novel by Robert B. Parker, it was the familiar story of how peace and justice was brought to the Wild West, by any means necessary of course, and that did include gunning down anyone unprepared to go along with you.

Three of the victims of Cole's lawmaking are also three of Bragg's men, shot for standing up to Cole and Hitch in a bar, yet also as a warning to their boss that this duo mean business. They are determined to bring this gang boss down, but cannot find anyone to stand up to him, not anyone who will testify against him in court at any rate. To complicate the plot, a woman enters the men's lives in the shape of Allie (Renée Zellweger), who Cole takes a liking to, unaware that she is the closest thing a western gets to a film noir femme fatale.

But suddenly, after a spot of facing off against Bragg who is reluctant for his underlings to relinquish their weapons when they are in town, among other problems, the lawmen catch a break: one of the gang is willing to speak up in court to bring Bragg to book. Everyone knows that this murderer killed off the marshall and his colleagues on his ranch to prevent them arresting his workers, but now no one wants to stand up to him and he is not going to give anything away just like that. In spite of a not entirely convincing accent, Irons does well in his accustomed role as the British actor playing the bad guy in an American film, although perhaps more able in the scenes where Bragg turns on his cloying charm.

Needless to say, even with the result of the trial going Cole's way (and the witness given a head start to get out of town before the verdict), what happens afterward is not so cut and dried. Curiously, although Cole and Hitch are our heroes, there's something distinctly unheroic about them, and their propensity for violence and taking revenge with the full backing of the authorities makes them morally shady, if not as reprehensible as those they are chasing. This lack of decency stretches to the supporting characters as well, and the only significant female role - Zellweger's - would have the whiff of misogyny about it if there was not anyone here who really deserved to wear the traditional white hat. Not even a coda where Hitch uses violence to give his friend a fresh chance does much to erase the sour taste of a western that is very well made, but somehow hard to endorse entirely without qualms. Music by Jeff Beal.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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