Reviewed by: Daniel Thompson
1 hr. 55 min.
Year of Release:
September 19, 2008 (LA/NYC/Toronto)
October 3, 2008 (wide—800 theaters)
DVD: January 13, 2009
“Feelings get you killed.”
What ever happened to the Classic Western film genre? Classic Westerns that used to be a dime a dozen in decades past have become scant over the last 25 years or so. With the exception of “Unforgiven”, “Tombstone”, and last year’s “3:10 to Yuma”, Western fans haven’t had much to be excited about, and they’ve had to revert back to the old adage, “they don’t make them like they used to.” If nothing else, “Appaloosa” is a Western that is without a doubt made in the vein of “like they used to.”
The film, based on the novel with the same title, is a story of two lawmen, Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), who seek to restore order in the town of Appaloosa, New Mexico, which has been taken over by the villainous Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) and his cronies. A power struggle ensues between the two sides, and the arrival of the beautiful, mysterious Ally French (Renée Zellweger) creates a love interest for Marshall Cole.
Directed by the lead, Harris, “Appaloosa” is shot at a somewhat meandering pace with plenty of wide pan shots featuring horse riding, sunsets, and even a tumbleweed or two. It’s clear, however, that Ed Harris has done his homework and his attention to detail is uncanny.
There are two elements that elevate the film from mediocre to a solid entry into the fading genre. First of all the cast is outstanding. Harris and Mortensen have a natural chemistry that makes you really feel like they’ve been lawmen together for years and years. Jeremy Irons, who already is blessed with a classic “bad guy” voice (Scar from “The Lion King” anyone?), fits in perfectly as the antagonist. Secondly, below the surface level plot issues are some deeper psychological ones, highlighted by the strong friendship of the two leads as well as an interesting view on love that reveals itself late in the film.
While I enjoyed the film, I don’t know if it will do well as a cross over film to those who aren’t a fan of westerns. It plays by the book and moves relatively slowly. And while there is some great humor in the film, it’s subtle and probably resonates more if you’re already invested in the story.
“Appaloosa” earns its ‘R’ rating, but is without a doubt a restrained ‘R’ in today’s era of film. The profanity is kept to a minimum, with only a few occurrences of profanity throughout the film. The violence is what you would probably expect, with a view gory scenes but nothing gratuitous or over the top. As far as sexual content goes, sex is implied several different times but never seen. There is a brief shot of a man and woman naked in a creek, as they are seen from behind. Also, the women in the film occasionally appear in revealing clothing, including one instance where a top appears to be somewhat sheer.
The good news is that the redemptive qualities of the film heavily outweigh the objectionable content. Clear lines are drawn between good and evil. Also, the friendship between the two leads is an inspiring one that showcases the sacrifice and selflessness of a true friend. There is one other relationship in the film that is of a highly redemptive nature. I won’t spoil it for you, but the example of unconditional love shown in the film is strikingly similar to Christ’s love for us, as documented by the story of Hosea.
And in the end, that’s all you can ask for in a secular film. You can’t expect perfection, but you can expect redemptive qualities that give us the opportunity to make the connection between virtues shown on screen and biblical virtues that we can practice in our everyday lives.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Heavy
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.