Ealasaid/ October 20, 2008/ Movie Reviews and Features

Directed by: Ed Harris
Starring: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger
Rated: R for some violence and language.
Parental Notes: This is a very mild R, and I suspect it got that rating because of a sequence in which two naked people are seen from a distance, from behind, rather than because of a few instances of swearing and a couple of brief gunfights. Should be fine for mature preteens and teenagers.

Coming Up In Film
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* October 26 – November 19, San Jose Jewish Film Festival at Camera 12. See for more info.
* October 30 7:00 pm, Cinelux Theater in Morgan Hill. The Poppy Jasper Film Festival presents: “Friday the 13th” theatrical presentation with writer Victor Miller. Costume contest.
* November 6, concert documentary “Queen + Paul Rodgers: Let the Cosmos Rock” at various local theaters. See for details.
* November 7 – 15, The 33rd Annual American Indian Film Festival. See for details.
* November 8, The Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Doctor Atomic” broadcast live to select local theaters. See for details.
* November 14 – 16, Poppy Jasper Film Festival in Morgan Hill. See for more info.
* November 21-22, Midnight Movie Madness: “Twilight.” Midnight screenings at Camera 7 (Friday) and Camera 12 (Saturday). See for details.
* November 21-23, Latino Film Festival at Camera 12. See for details.

“Appaloosa” is an old-school western, from its craggy heroes to its simple storyline. There is a wealth of character and emotion packed into the quiet scenes, and the few gunfights are quick and efficient.
At the heart of the film is a friendship, one of those long, close friendships that results in two people who don’t finish each other’s sentences because they hardly have to speak to each other at all anymore. Glances and the occasional brief exchange are all they need because they have been working together so long. Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) and Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) are peace keepers, gunslingers who are hired by towns to take care of the bad guys.
Harris and Mortensen inhabit their characters completely, and every little motion is meaningful. Hitch and Cole have been working together for over a decade, and are sure of each other and their roles in the partnership, and the two actors bring that to life. There’s a confidence in the two men, a straight-forwardness that makes them fascinating to watch.
The town of Appaloosa, which is beset by a gang of ruffians led by the nastily intelligent Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), isn’t shown in enough detail to get a good feel for it. It’s big enough to have several businesses, but small enough to be a frontier town and not a city. The details aren’t as important as its archetypal existence, providing the setting for the events of the film. It’s dusty and populated by curious children and cautious townfolk; it has a saloon and a train station and a dry goods store and a hotel; that is all it needs.
Virgil and Everett essentially take over the town as Marshall and Deputy Marshal, respectively. They make laws and enforce them: break the law, and you go to jail. Resist arrest, and you get shot dead on the spot. Bragg loses a small group of his men to Virgil and Everett’s law enforcement and shows up to negotiate with the newcomers. Virgil is not intimidated, and we know from that moment that things will not end well between the two men.
Irons’ performance is (aside from his oddly inconsistent accent) a fascinating one to watch. Bragg is cunning and intelligent, but he’s not just an intellectual: the film opens with him shooting three men in cold blood. He’s a nasty piece of work, a man out to get everything he can for himself and willing to eliminate obstacles regardless of what the law says about his methods.
Things are made more complicated by the appearance of the widowed Allison French (Renée Zellweger), who captures Virgil’s heart in an instant. There is, of course, more to her than meets the eye, and her presence turns everything on its head. One gets the feeling that Virgil and Everett have cleaned bad guys out of little towns like Appaloosa a hundred times and all those adventures have been the same; “Appaloosa” is the tale of the adventure that went differently.
It isn’t a loud or an action-packed film; everyone in the movie is a good shot, and that means the gunfights are over quickly. More is said in the silences between the dialog than when the characters are talking. This is not a big popcorn movie, it’s a quiet examination of the effects of a series of events on two characters and their friendship — and it does a beautiful job of that.

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