So I’ll come right out and admit that I’ve never been a fan of the western. The occasional will come around that thrills me and that is Tombstone or even Unforgiven. Hell, every once in a while I’ll also check out one of the old Clint Eastwood or John Wayne flick simply because there’s nothing else on television and they are mildly interesting. But it’s just not my cup of tea to sit there and watch the Old West and experience what people did without electricity, indoor plumbing, and Blu-ray players. Yet, I decided to give Appaloosa a try because it’s got Ed Harris in it. Ed Harris people. The guy just screams “cool psychopath.”
Much in the way of Wyatt Earp and his brothers, Everett Hitch and Virgil Cole are two old-school hitmen that wander into the town of Appaloosa and automatically take over control of the law. Thanks to the marshal and deputies going AWOL, Appaloosa needs all the help it can get in controlling the law. Everett and Virgil take matter into their own hands as they always do and are looking to keep the peace in their new town. The townspeople need their help because local villain Randall Bragg and his gang of miscreants are terrorizing Appaloosa in hopes of making it their own. Bragg is also the guy that is suspected of disposing of the town’s former law enforcement in ways that won’t ever see them coming back. Virgil and Everett have their hands full right from the start of their new positions and aren’t willing to back down.
We certainly can’t forget Miss Allison French who is the dainty and beautiful (?) piano player that automatically catches the eye of Virgil making him a bit more susceptible to keeping his guard down. Miss French isn’t necessarily trying to make things worse for our heroes, but she is hoping that both of them can kind of make her life a bit easier. Meanwhile, Bragg and his men are heading into town full force and not going to leave until Virgil and Everett end up just like the lawmen that came before them.
Now this…this I like.
Appaloosa is one of those westerns that will find it’s way into my small amount of films in that genre that I’ll watch on a regular basis. Starting off is the story and I was pleased greatly with how it flowed throughout the duration of the film. Ed Harris does a phenomenal job of bringing about the main plot right off the bat by introducing us to the good guys with guns (cowboys are bad guys, see Tombstone taught me something) and bringing forth the fact that they want to bring peace back to town by any means necessary. Shortly thereafter comes the bad guys (cowboys) and you can automatically see that these dudes mean business and are out to make Appaloosa their own. It is a simple good versus evil story complete with six-shooters and dirt roads that give it a much more real feel then other westerns I’ve seen.
A fault I found with the film is something that surprisingly didn’t bother me as much as it has with other movies that have done the same thing. Most often a crime of those films in the horror genre, Appaloosa failed to give much of a background on not only the characters but the town itself. We find out so little about anyone and anything in the film that you feel as if you are beginning right in the middle of it all. But the thing here is that it works nicely without making you think about it while watching the film, but it’ll probably bother you after. You’re going to know what happened in town, who the good guys are, who the villains are, and why they’re fighting…but that’s virtually all you need. A complicated history isn’t needed here and while it may bother some; it actually settled with me just fine.
This copy of Appaloosa includes both the Full Screen and Widescreen formats and no matter which one you choose, they both look fantastic. The Widescreen shows a bit more of course and is a bit tighter in some spots, but they’re both good. Colors are bright when they need to be which is rare in this Old West setting so they really stand out nicely where they need to.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound makes Appaloosa truly come to life with the sounds of gunshots ringing in your ears and the wind whisking all around the room as spurs jingle down the dirt road. All sounds well here and all dialogue can be heard nicely so this is all good.
Audio Commentary – Director/actor Ed Harris sits down with screenwriter/producer Robert Knott for the commentary track. Knott could have done without putting his name on this one because it’s like he wasn’t there anyway. Harris does about ninety-five percent of the talking and does a fine job on his own. He goes over the how production value changes a good bit when doing a western as opposed to any other type of film because of working with nature’s different elements. Harris also talks about the sets and costumes and everything that generally goes into the making of a movie. It’s not overly informative, but it’s well worth a listen.
Additional Scenes – There are six deleted scenes you can check out and if you wish, Ed Harris and Robert Knott are along for optional commentary as well. Harris and Knott don’t really add much at all here except to say when certain scenes would take place if they had stayed in the film. Some of the scenes are pretty good and it wouldn’t have hurt the film any if they had been left in, but no big deal. (12:03)
Bringing The Characters Of Appaloosa To Life – Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are those who provide the most in this featurette, but everything is good here. Cast and crew discuss making the film a reality after Harris’ vision came to life in his head after reading a part of the novel while on vacation with his family. It’s a pretty good look at how they all seemed to really enjoy working with one another. (7:33)
Historic Accuracy Of Appaloosa – Mortensen starts off right away saying that every detail was paid attention to in ways of costumes, sets, character, language, and everything imaginable for the film. Jeremy Irons sits back like a pimp talking about how the film gets its legs simply by being as accurate to the past as possible. This is a great look at the amount of work that went into just making sure the dialogue and costumes were as close to the time period as possible so as to make it all realistic. (10:21)
The Town Of Appaloosa – Having take place in 1882, the film worked to create the fictional town of Appaloosa so it looked as if it actually would have existed. Every aspect of the main buildings that were in town such as the sheriff’s office, the train station, and the barbershop needed to be placed correctly as well. The production designer reveals an interesting note in that every single building in town has something to do with a particular character. While the other featurettes are good; this is one I wished would have been a bit longer because it is fascinating learning about the architecture and meaning of the different structures in the city. (5:08)
Dean Semler’s Return To The Western – Dean Semler is the director of photography and Harris actually wasn’t sure they would be able to get him for this film because of lack of funds and the technology not being what Semler was used to. Semler seems to have a fantastic eye for shots that really mean something and never having a trivial scene throughout the entire film. (5:17)
Trailers – Pride And Glory, Rocknrolla, and Body Of Lies
Yes, Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen have impressed me before in their action roles and dramatic personas, but I wasn’t exactly sure how I’d handle them in cowboy boots and hanging out in the saloon. Needless to say, but they impressed me. Actually, everyone in the film impressed me including the most awesome Jeremy Irons who was just made to be the bad guy no matter what setting he is in. I will say that my viewing experience could have been made better without the lemon-sucking face of Renee Zellweger, but into each life a little rain must fall. Appaloosa is a gun-slingin’ good time (too much?) that will have even those who aren’t a fan of the western watching with wide open eyes and never fearing the tumbleweeds of boredom. A nice array of special features fill up the rest of the DVD with a decent commentary track and forty more minutes of some fun behind the scenes looks at every aspect of the production phase. I can’t recommend this for everyone because those that loathe the western would have given it a much lower score and wouldn’t want to see this at all anyway. But if you like westerns, Ed Harris, Jeremy Irons, or Viggo Mortensen…then you need to at least give Appaloosa a shot because it is a rip-roarin’ yee-hawing good time!
New Line presents Appaloosa. Directed by: Ed Harris. Starring: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, Timothy Spall, Lance Henriksen. Written by: Ed Harris & Robert Knott. Running time: 114 minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: January 13, 2009. Available at Amazon.com