The Western genre continues its attempt at a revival!
Screenplay By: Ed Harris & Robert Knott
Directed By: Ed Harris
The Western genre has been experiencing a bit of a comeback over the past few years with films like The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, 3:10 To Yuma, Seraphim Falls, the somewhat Western There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men, a Western in all but era. In 2008 Ed Harris decided to join the fray with his take on the Western, Appaloosa. This is Harris’ second time behind the camera, and he has a distinct and yet nondescript style. Confusing I know, but like usual, I shall explain.
Harris doesn’t bring a variety of visuals to Appaloosa, nor does he allow his camera much freedom. His style with the camera is laid back and plain, a lot like how I envision the man to be in his regular life. What he does do as a director that gives him a more distinct style is to allow his actors more movement with their characters. He isn’t concerned with moving the plot along as much as he is with making sure the audience gets to know the characters. At times this is a welcome change of pace, but there are also times when it is a detriment to the film. But, it does give Harris a distinctive style and one that isn’t present in many directors working today.
My first problem with Appaloosa came the moment Renée Zellweger entered the picture. I don’t know why it happened, but in recent years she has gone from a merely passable actress to someone with the ability to bring a film crashing down around her. She doesn’t bring Appaloosa to an early demise, but she becomes an issue both in her acting and in how she influences the story. The flat truth is that she can’t keep up with Viggo Mortnesen, Ed Harris, Jeremy Irons and Lance Henriksen. She tries, but she is always lagging behind them, where they are subtle she is obvious, where they are expressive she is bland, and I could go on. Aside from her lack of ability as an actress there is her role within the plot. She never connects with any character or with the audience, we are never given any reason for why Virgil Cole should trust her or why men should lust after her. She isn’t good looking enough to just be a temptress, nor does her character ever show enough for us to believe in all the problems she causes and the lengths people will go to for her.
The chemistry between Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris is compelling and a boon to the film. The last hour or so is more hit than miss, but there is still plenty of miss. Appaloosa does interesting things with conventions such as the shoot out and the showdown with the Indians. But, it can’t keep up its level of interesting and every time I felt like I was going to be drawn more into the film the flow of the movie would stop or some conflict would arise about Allie that I didn’t buy. There have been better Westerns in the current revival, and while there are certainly elements of Appaloosa to like, there is more that misfires than finds its mark. The gunfights in Appaloosa are short, and so is any impact this film will have on the viewer.