There seems to be something a little narcissistic about starring in a film you direct. Maybe it’s just me, but picturing Ed Harris during filming of Appaloosa (based on the novel by Robert B. Parker, and adapted for the screen by Robert Knott and Harris) saying ‘aaaaaaand, cut! Yeah, we got it!’ in response to his own performance is a little laughable. However, his direction deserves respect, as this film was impressive.
Virgil (Ed Harris) and Everett (Viggo Mortenson) are two friends, traveling the old west as freelance gunmen, willing to police towns in the name of justice, for a price. The two are called to a small town in New Mexico by a small group of bureaucrats tired of their settlement being raped by a group of bandits, led by a man named Bragg (Jeremy Irons). Upon arrival, Virgil sets his foot down and starts controlling the town with an iron fist. He and Everett are BFFs that have been working together for years and know each other intimately (maybe it’s my dirty mind, but there was definitely a weird sexual tension between the two). Matters become complicated by the arrival of the mysteriously beautiful, and impoverished Ms. French (Renee Zellwegger), to whom Virgil takes a liking. The vigilante team undertakes the great task of dethroning the local bandit Bragg, risking their lives all the way.
Harris’ direction was that of a seasoned filmmaker (even though he only has one other direction credit under his belt), even if he may have taken his own role a little too seriously. The chemistry of the main players was riveting. However, while the chemistry was there, there was something lacking in the film. The actions of the characters were simply not understandable. Great risks were taken, for no apparent reason, allegiances to seemingly despicable characters were forged without an explanation as to why, leaving the viewer confused as to why the plot was taking a certain direction. And while the trailer promised a tense tale of the wild west, it was almost more of a subtle comedy than it was a western. Most of the performances were stellar, although it seems as if Irons took every one of his cues from Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance from last year’s There Will Be Blood (even down to his voice). While there were a few shortcomings, Appaloosa is worth a viewing, and on the big screen too. The beautiful portrayal of unsettled New Mexico, might not be able to be fully appreciated on a small screen.