Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) has been terrorizing the small town of Appaloosa for a long time. Well, that’s what has apparently been happening, we don’t actually see much of that, except that people seem to be genuinely terrified of him. At the film’s beginning, we find out that he is accused of killing a man named Jack Bell, the marshal of the same small town.
The aldermen of the town decide to hire two lawman in order to stop Bragg from haunting Appaloosa. These men are named Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, and they are played by Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen respectively. Harris was also the film’s director. They’re calm and cool characters, and also ones that we will get to meet and learn a lot about of the rest of the film.
The keywords in the last two paragraphs were “Jeremy Irons”, “Ed Harris” and “Viggo Mortensen”. Basically, Ed Harris got together a few really good actors and decided to shoot a Western. While Irons doesn’t get all that much screen time as “the villain”, Mortensen and Harris get a lot of focus, with Harris getting the most out of it.
The two become the new marshal and deputy of the town, and immediately get to work, shooting three people within the first 5 minutes they are on the job. They scare Bragg, a little bit, but he claims that the duo will not last long as the voice of authority in Appaloosa. He’s wrong, because they last a long time, possibly too long.
In fact, if there is one major problem that Appaloosa has, it’s its runtime. It’s not the longest film out there, not even totaling 2 hours, but it certainly felt longer than that–only in parts though. Most of the film is entertaining, kept me engaged and had purpose. There were just a few times when I found myself nodding off. It’s odd that there is such a drastic shift in how I felt, but that is what happened.
I’m thinking that this occurred because I’m not a large fan of Westerns to begin with, but to be honest, I haven’t given them much of a chance. I don’t think that matters all that much, because watching genres I wasn’t all that familiar with has presented me with some of my favorite films. And yet, I can’t say that I enjoy Westerns all that much, and when there are parts within them where the story fails to captivate, it really falls hard with me.
The points in the story where Virgil Cole attempts to gain the affection of one Allie French (Renée Zellweger) were typically the parts where I stopped caring. At these points, I almost fell asleep from how bored I was. I think that one of the reasons for this was how quickly their romance develops, and how it never felt like the couple cared much for one another. Now, I know that this does become one of the subplots later on in the film, and that some focus is placed on how faithful each character is to the other, but the relationship seemed forced to me.
Another area of focus that felt weird to me was the way that Harris’ character got the majority of the screen time throughout the film. In the novel, Everett is the lead. Here, despite the fact that the ending might speak otherwise, Virgil is the character that appears the most, and even when both characters are on-screen together, Virgil always appears in front of Everett, playing the leader of the pair, always seemingly more important. While this is a deviation from the novel, it plays a more important role in the film.
Near the finale of Appaloosa, the perspective suddenly shifts to Everett’s point of view. This is done without much warning or reason, but makes us think that he should have had more attention throughout the last hour and a half. Since he didn’t get that focus, this shift is jarring and feels odd–distracting even. It also made the ending feel like it didn’t fit in with the rest of the film, even if it was a good way to wrap-up the story. Like I said, “odd”.
The main story, for what it’s worth, is entertaining enough to be watchable. I was fixated on the screen during the exchanges between Bragg and the lawmen, and even the exchanges between the two lawmen themselves. The sense of comradery and chemistry between the pair is wonderful, and the duo have some genuinely funny lines of dialogue that they use at the expense of the other. These parts are fun and intriguing, and actually really enjoyable. They just needed more time, with less focus on the romantic subplot.
Appaloosa had its problems, but it also had moments of real brilliance. The main story was entertaining enough, and if the majority, (or all of it, I wouldn’t complain), of the romantic subplot was removed, I wouldn’t have felt bored at all. As it is, I was bored, but only during small parts. The ending took a very different perspective that was jarring, and took something away from the rest of the film. I liked Appaloosa, not a lot, but enough to give it a recommendation, especially for fans of Western films.