Appaloosa

Actor-turned-filmmaker Ed Harris' tone-deaf adaptation of Robert B. Parker's novel involves a marshal-for-hire, his deputy, a dusty southwestern town, a damsel in distress and a ruthless capitalist willing to kill anyone standing between him and his God-given right to make a lot of money. New Mexico, 1882: Friends and partners in law enforcement for...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Actor-turned-filmmaker Ed Harris' tone-deaf adaptation of Robert B. Parker's novel involves a marshal-for-hire, his deputy, a dusty southwestern town, a damsel in distress and a ruthless capitalist willing to kill anyone standing between him and his God-given right to make a lot of money.

New Mexico, 1882: Friends and partners in law enforcement for twelve years, laconic Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and the slightly more voluble Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) are hired to rid Appaloosa, a mining town fallen on hard times, of aspiring robber baron Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons). Rancher Bragg intends get rich by reopening the mines, and the goons he employs to make sure no-one gets in his way recently graduated from running roughshod over the locals to murdering a visiting businessman and his wife. The sheriff and his deputies rode out to Bragg's spread and never came back. Cole and Hitch have handled this kind of situation more times than they can remember, but this time there's a snag in the form of impecunious widow Allie French (Renee Zellweger), who blows into town with a dollar to her name and a coy manner that turns Cole's head right around. Hitch has her number long before she puts the moves on him, but Cole is too smitten to see past the scrunched up smile and genteel fluttering. Allie is the bargaining chip mercenaries Ring and Mackie Shelton (Lance Henriksen, Adam Nelson) use to pry Bragg from Cole's grip, the wedge that threatens his bond with Everett and the Achilles' heel no man who lives by the gun can afford.

The appeal of Parker's novel lies in Cole and Hitch's old-married-couple banter: They bicker with one breath and finish each other's sentences with the next – imagine Nick and Nora Charles' repartee pared to a lean, sun-bleached sliver and delivered in a prickly drawl. But with the exception of Mortensen's Hitch, a Southern-bred son of West Point whose education, honor and ingrained manners offset years of shooting men for money, the characters make no sense. Cole is a one-note cipher, a man with a name but no story. He's a mess of idiosyncrasies that don't add up, tossing off a ten-dollar word like "ineluctable" then stumbling over "sequestered" and falling for Allie's clumsy wiles like a sheltered schoolboy despite a lifetime of consorting with "whores and squaws." Irons, whose unreliable accent often suggests Walter Houston by way of Daniel Day Lewis in THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007), blusters through what may be the least distinguished performance of his career20and Zellweger's Allie is simply mystifying, which isn't the same thing as mysterious. She's too awkward for a seasoned gold digger, too casually promiscuous for a genteel woman down on her luck ("she'll f--k anything that isn't gelded," Cole observes when the scales finally fall from his eyes) and too clueless for a con woman. Played for Maverick-like comedy, the film might have coasted on Harris and Mortensen's dialogue. But played straight it's both dull and preposterous, which neither Dean Semler's somberly handsome score nor Jeff Beals' pushy, cornball score does anything to ameliorate.

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  • Released: 2008
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Actor-turned-filmmaker Ed Harris' tone-deaf adaptation of Robert B. Parker's novel involves a marshal-for-hire, his deputy, a dusty southwestern town, a damsel in distress and a ruthless capitalist willing to kill anyone standing between him and his God-gi… (more)

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