The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Appaloosa

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Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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The titular town is in New Mexico.  It’s 1882 and Chester Arthur is president.  The horse is the preferred mode of transportation, and the gun is the de facto law of the land.  It seems too many guns are in the hands of bad guy Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) and his posse of ill-tempered, uneducated hooligans, not a complete set of teeth between the lot of them.


After Bragg kills off the sheriff and his two deputies - who’ve come to collect some of his gang for previous bad behavior involving firearms and death - the town fathers set about securing the services of guns-for-hire Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen).  They don’t espouse violence; they’re just in the “peacekeeping business.”

The affable duo is ultra-polite and soft-spoken amongst themselves and others.  They radiate a shared confidence which the townsmen find so appealing, that they agree to Cole’s demand that his word constitutes the law in Appaloosa for the duration of his contract.

Hitch has an 8-gauge shotgun, state of the art for its day, which never fails to elicit awe from both the righteous and the evil.  He can afford to speak softly while carrying that big stick.  The first confrontation with Bragg’s men comes when Cole and Hitch find two of the goons partaking in a literal “pissin’ contest” in the town’s boarding house/saloon.

In a smooth, cool confrontation during which new, lawful parameters are set, Cole illustrates his swift brand of irreversible justice by stating, “I warned him,” as one of the troublemakers takes a fatal tumble.  Case closed.  Order restored.  Cole and Hitch inhabit the Sheriff’s Office by day and the boarding house by night.

A stagecoach soon delivers a new woman to town, the piano-playing widow Allison French (Renee Zellwegger) whose fancy clothes and proper speech immediately attract Cole.  After all, he’s used to whores and the occasional squaw.  With only a dollar to her name, French is a kind of monetary damsel in distress, not at all shy about exploiting the kindness of strangers.  Hitch is intrigued as well, and the trio forms a little group whose goal starts out as friendship but soon segways into more intimate dealings for Cole and French.

The aptly named French is restless for male companionship and swirls her skirts around the stoic Hitch in a foreshadowing of stormy times ahead that will test the friendship and loyalty of the two good guys while they battle the bad ones.

The gun-slinging peacekeepers bring Bragg to justice through unexpected eyewitness testimony and what swiftly follows is a kidnapping, a ransom, an escape, several betrayals and double crosses, a presidential intervention and a bizarre reversal of fortune for one of the characters by film’s end.  There’s also the world’s shortest, most abrupt gunfight and improbable aftermath.  French plays a pivotal role in these occurrences, fully clothed and otherwise.

An unsatisfying conclusion also mars the film, with loose strings uneasily tidied up in nanoseconds before the final obligatory sunset ride.

Ed Harris teams up with Viggo Mortensen again (A History of Violence) and proves that the two have a palpable chemistry that can hold audiences in their place, straining to hear each soft-spoken word between the two.  More of these two interacting onscreen would have been welcome.

Viggo Mortensen seems at home in the Western genre, mesmerizing and authentic as the honor-bound late 19th century soldier of fortune.  Jeremy Irons is gaunt in appearance and wavers in and out of his British and Western accented speech, making him less fearsome than we’d like.  Renee Zellwegger, is terribly miscast as the restless widow that just “cain’t say no” to good guys and bad guys alike.  It’s getting difficult to view the Academy Award winner lately without wondering about her almost permanent perplexed scowl.

Director/actor Ed Harris (Pollock) co-wrote the screenplay with actor/producer Robert Knott and the dialogue is arresting (pardon the pun).  It is a real pleasure to listen to Hitch and Cole converse in their gentle, respectful manner.  The first half of the film is visually and mentally appealing; unfortunately, the second half lapses into predictability and a creeping boredom.

What a letdown for a film to start out so full of promise only to have you wonder at its disappointing close if TurnMeLoosa wouldn’t have been a better title choice.