Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Appaloosa Review

Ed Harris and Viggo Mortenson, seemingly out of nowhere, decided the time was ripe for a throw-back Western. Thankfully, they're a talented couple of people so the resulting flick was downright enjoyable. Or more accurately, it is enjoyable as long as you can overlook / accept a few key points.
  1. Appaloosa is in the vein of Clint Eastwood westerns of the 60's and 70's. It's a story about terse men living at the edge of civilization where the luxuries of modernity are mostly missing. This starkness extends beyond outhouses (although an outhouse visit weaves its way into the plot) to human interaction. Relationships congeal faster than one would expect. If you are willing to accept certain emotional connections between characters who, five minutes earlier, had just met, as honest depictions of life on the frontier instead of sloppy writing, the core of the movie will pack some punch. Personally, I went for it, assuming that shorter life expectancies and harsher conditions validated relationships built on little foreplay or courtship.
  2. There are more than a few cliches on display here. Church-bells clang doomingly over draws, secondary characters might as well be part of the scenery, and a cowboy goes so far as to ride off into the sunset. Again, if you're already drowning in meta post-modern references, these tropes might seem tired to you. I never felt like the movie was winking at me, however, which is where I draw my threshold for cliche. These scenes didn't feel forced or even self-aware and their honesty made them palatable. 
  3. Renee Zellweger. She is enormously hit-or-miss for me. There's something about the squeaky voice emanating from a face contorted into that twisted half-smile that can really get on my nerves when the movie asks me to find her cute or attractive. Thankfully, Appaloosa didn't ask this of me and her unsettling nature fit well with the setting. 
So what are we left with after you've accepted the above? Two great actors who are having a good time stretching their legs, some snappy direction, and an uncomplicated but engaging plot. Neither role asks much of the two leads but Ed Harris has a few gut-checking moments as his seemingly unflappable tough-guy gets flapped. And Viggo is just fun to watch. He's very comfortable in his role and nothing feels forced, though his is the more stereotypical character by the end. 

So I'm saying it's good. It doesn't break any new ground in re-imagining the classic western but it doesn't do the genre a disservice either. Watch it you princes of Maine, you queens of New New York. 

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