Appaloosa

It’s 1882 in New Mexico. It’s more dust than paydirt and there’s a lot more bad guys than good guys.

The movie opens as three lawmen go to a ranch to arrest ranch hands accused of rape and murder. But the powerful ranch owner, Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons, Casanova) refuses to allow his men to be removed. He shoots the lawmen dead in their saddles.

Bragg is no better behaved when he comes into town. His men get drunk and vicious and they don’t pay their bills. The town fathers of Appaloosa realize their businesses will never turn a profit until Bragg is controlled. Enter our two old gun-toting heroes, long beyond their prime, who can still shoot better than any other men west of the Poconos. The traveling lawmen call themselves “peacemakers.” They tip their hats to the ladies, ride tall, walk slow, and exchange witty banter, lifted righteously from the pages of the novel written by the king of dialogue Robert B. Parker. Virgil Cole (Ed Harris, National Treasure 2) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises) have never worried about the legalities of who they killed and they’re not about to start now. Steely-eyed and steady-handed, they prepare for the eventual showdown with Randall and his ragged band.

It’s just another peacekeeping job on the wild frontier–until Mrs. Allison French (Renee Zelwegger, Leatherheads) steps off the train and walks jauntily down the unpaved road to the local café. Sensing that Virgil Cole is the top man in the local bestiary, the lonely widow flirts openly with him. Virgil is immediately smitten. As he explains to a flummoxed Everett, Mrs. French is not only pretty, but she “plays the piano and chews her food good.” Within a few days, with Mrs. French’s enthusiastic encouragement, Virgil intends to buy a house and settle down permanently in Appaloosa. Everett keeps his opinions to himself. He knows that when he and Cole clean up Appaloosa, the town can afford only one lawman.

Meanwhile a complex, intriguing story develops as Randall Bragg is brought to justice, escapes justice and then faces a different kind of justice in the end. Playing wonderful parts in the story are a brave young man, a magnificent train, wary Apache Indians, and nasty kidnappers–all seen against the backdrop of gorgeous New Mexico and Texas scenery. Through it all our heroes face, with noble resignation, the essential villain of all Western movies– the relentless encroachment of so-called civilization.

Directed with a sure hand by co-star Ed Harris (whose previous directorial venture, Pollack won an Academy Award for actress Marcia Gay Harden), Appaloosa is tonic for all those worn-out by computerized superheroes. The heroes in this movie are more like real men–their feet hurt when they wear their boots too long, they make more mistakes than they intended, and their women–yessiree, their women are real, too.

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