I thought I'd do a little run of reviews of various films, books, and whatnot, that I've enjoyed in 2008. Let's start with Appaloosa.
A far more leisurely Western than the trailer suggests, Ed Harris directs and stars in this film version of a Robert B. Barker novel. Yes, there's plenty of action, but because the film also concentrates heavily on the friendship between the two leads (Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen), there's a lot of amusing, sparse dialogue scenes, which add much thoughtfulness and depth to the film. These two men are struck from the Western template of Howard Hawks' movies. Men's men, who are comfortable in their maleness, say little, and have a strong code of behaviour. This could easily be clichéd if it wasn't so deftly and lightly done. Their scenes together are irresistibly charming.
There's nothing terribly original in this tale of two guns for hire, who arrive in the town of Appaloosa, to bring law. But it's so expertly crafted, with great turns from Jeremy Irons and Lance Hendrickson as the villains, that it seems like something new. The film isn't an ironic take on the Western genre, or some clever, but empty re-imagining of the form. Instead it's a solid story well told, containing believable characters, expertly played by seasoned actors.
Only Rene Zellweger seems a little ill-served by the screenplay. Her character, the inevitable love interest, gets only one scene to explain her motivations, and as a result, she's somewhat underwritten. It's hard to believe that a stand up guy like Harris's Virgil Cole, would fall for such a troublesome and mercurial minx, but then, perhaps that's the point?