In Pollock, Ed Harris directed himself very effectively as the ultimate anguished artist. In Appaloosa, he directs himself as a rugged gunslinger, and what once looked like a predilection for moody outsiders is revealed to be actorly vanity, narcissist down to the ballad the actor-director warbles over the closing credits. Based on a Robert B. Parker novel, the film follows a pair of no-nonsense lawmen, Marshal Virgil Cole (Harris) and his loyal deputy Everett (Viggo Mortensen), as they are hired to clean up the brutal New Mexico town of Appaloosa in 1882. Though handy with shotguns, the two prefer to wile away the time leaning on porch chairs and, in the film’s running joke, engaging in dust-dry comic routines in which Virgil fumbles with a $10 word and Everett laconically corrects him. Their friendship is put to the test by the arrival of two characters, nefarious rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons, dispensing perfunctory villainy in a Walter Huston-styled growl) and, more significantly, transplanted belle Alison French (Renée Zellweger). The film may share a title with the bizarrely masochistic 1966 Marlon Brando oater, but Harris’s Western is considerably less outré; the promising chemistry between Harris and Mortensen, splendidly matched previously as foes in A History of Violence, has plenty of unhurried humor and traces of the sublimated bromance Montgomery Clift and John Ireland danced around in Red River, yet it isn’t long before the story takes a turn toward turgid predictability. As the perkiest frontier gal since Doris Day’s Calamity Jane, Zellweger’s fickle Alison is at one point likened to a mare that helplessly gravitates toward the head stallion in the herd, an insulting role not helped by photography that makes the actress look considerably less fresh than such grizzled genre standbys as Lance Henriksen and James Gammon. While he thankfully avoids the actor-filmmaker avenger fantasies of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Harris doesn’t have the genre chops to fill Appaloosa‘s empty spaces. Subsequently, the film could be summed up in one word that would surely stump its protagonist: “Lugubrious.”
- Ed Harris
- Ed Harris, Robert Knott
- Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, Lance Henriksen, James Gammon, Timothy Spall, Ariadna Gil
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