‘Appaloosa’ – Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen tame the Old West on Max

Ed Harris directs and stars in Appaloosa (2008), a delightfully old-school western with some modern ideas about relationships.

Harris plays lawmen-for-hire Virgil Cole and Viggo Mortensen is Everett Hitch, his loyal best friend and deputy, following him from town to town. They take up their new posts in Appaloosa, a town terrorized by the lawless antics of cowhands working for the local cattle baron (Jeremy Irons), in perfect synch without saying a word: Virgil at point and Everett calmly taking up a strategic position as back-up.

Virgil is a classic western loner type, unfazed by violence and unflinching in the face of superior numbers, but downright flustered around a pretty woman. Allison (Renee Zellweger) steps off the train all schoolmarmish-like, but she’s no blushing innocent. She shows unsentimental survival skills when she’s taken hostage in a showdown with the rancher. If Virgil judges her for it, the film is more understanding.

Harris and Mortensen make a natural pair as the lawmen-for-hire. Harris has the stony countenance and wind-etched visage of an old-school movie cowboy while Mortensen’s Everett, Virgil’s quiet, plainspoken support, has a steely intensity under his lanky ease and laconic attitude.



The screenplay, adapted from a novel by Robert Parker, has a tendency to over-explain at times and there’s not much moral nuance and little character dimension. It turns out, that fits the genre just fine. Harris takes his time telling the tale and embrace the romance of friendship forged on the trail and under fire and the relationship between Virgil and Allison has a refreshing honesty as they stumble and compromise their way to an adult understanding.

Appaloosa is a well told, thoroughly enjoyable, and refreshingly direct buddy western that delivers the sagebrush goods: buddy loyalty, stalwart heroes, despicable villains, plenty of gunfights and marvelous wind-scoured desert landscapes. That’s more than enough.

Timothy Spall, Lance Henriksen, and James Gammon costar.

Rated R

Also on disc and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Appaloosa [Blu-ray]
Appaloosa [DVD]

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The special edition Blu-ray and DVD features commentary with director Ed Harris and producer Robert Knott, four featurettes, and six deleted scenes, including the original prologue, with optional commentary by Harris and Knott.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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