Monday Movie: Appaloosa, by David Bax
Ed Harris has only chosen to direct two movies in his career so it stands to reason that he must feel pretty passionately about a project before stepping behind the camera. With 2008’s Appaloosa, he sought to pay homage to old-fashioned, non-revisionist Westerns. And so he did, but with an emotional sensitivity at its core that lends itself to a 21st century look at the heart and mind of the classic, “strong, silent type.”
Appaloosa’s story concerns two hired lawmen (Harris and his A History of Violence costar Viggo Mortensen) brought in to wrest control of a town back from the wealthy, ruthless rancher (Jeremy Irons, dripping with malevolence) who has made it his own fiefdom. While carrying out this task, Harris’ Cole also falls in love with the town’s other newcomer, the recently widowed Allie (Renée Zellweger). Those superficial narrative elements all add up to a prototypical genre entry. Beneath that, though, the film is less about its plot or its romance than it is about the hetero, male devotion between Cole and Mortensen’s Hitch. That relationship provides an otherwise cold and measured story about cold and measured men with a warm, beating heart. It also, thankfully, distracts from the potentially troublesome character of Allie, who is either a proudly complicated and sexually assertive woman or a stock example of a fickle and untrustworthy female stereotype.
Despite the violence that peppers it, Appaloosa is mostly a quiet and understated film. Perhaps that accounts for its failure to endure in the cultural memory (despite me doing my part by placing it on my top ten of 2008 list in the early days of this site). But it’s worth a calculated reappraisal as would befit Cole himself.