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Appaloosa

Reviewed By: Perry Seibert

Buried at the center of many classic Westerns is a love story between grown men. My Darling Clementine, Rio Bravo, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are just some of the beloved oaters that are as much about men's loyalty and companionship as they are about gunslinging. Appaloosa fits snugly into that venerable tradition. Director and co-screenwriter Ed Harris plays Virgil Cole, a lawman for hire who travels the Wild West with his longtime deputy, the eight-gauge-toting Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen). The title town hires the duo after politically connected rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) guns down the local sheriff. The situations and the settings of Appaloosa might be very familiar, but the close relationship between the two leads is uncommonly specific. Their friendship, formed by years of surviving potentially fatal battles together, runs deep. This bond is expressed through sly grins, kidding words, and their mutual sense of professionalism. Let's be clear, Ed Harris has not remade Brokeback Mountain -- this is a buddy film -- but he is unafraid to examine the complicated inner lives of two very manly men. Harris and Mortensen have a genuine chemistry together -- they get laughs out of throwaway bits of business because you can tell how much the two characters mean to each other. Complicating their showdown with the bad guy, as well as their relationship to each other, is Renée Zellweger as Allison French, the town's newest citizen. When both men take a shine to her, audiences are prepped for a traditional love triangle, but Harris has thankfully cooked up something rather more unconventional. Because the machinations of catching the bad guy take a back seat to the motivations and emotions of the two leads, the second half of Appaloosa doesn't have the narrative rush that the first half does. However, this shouldn't scare off genre enthusiasts, as Harris more than satisfies the traditions of the genre -- especially in three realistically quick and explosive gunfights (one of them the classic quick-draw, showdown on Main Street variety). The achievement of Appaloosa, for all of the movie's familiar qualities, is that the characters are so specific that they reinvigorate the conventions. Thanks to the fine acting, the solid direction, and the first-rate screenplay, the highly entertaining Appaloosa is simultaneously a traditional Western, a buddy comedy, and a love story.