In the simplest of terms, this is a terrific movie, one of the better Westerns I’ve had the pleasure of watching — and I’ve now watched it a number of times.
In 1882, Appaloosa, New Mexico, finds itself as a town without a city marshal or a spine. Appaloosa is under the thumb of the deliciously ruthless Randall Bragg, who always takes what he wants, whether that’s money, women or lives.
The city fathers, in an act of desperation, send for Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, hired guns who operate under the auspices of the law — the law they set in each town they clean up.
Cole and Hitch have never failed to do what they were hired to do, and it stands to reason that they’ll quickly clean up Appaloosa the same way they have with other similar towns. That is until Allison French (Allie) comes into town with only a dollar to her name. It takes her less than an hour to bring Cole under her spell. Not surprisingly, this becomes the weakness Cole never previously had, and Bragg exploits it. Allie stands between Bragg and Cole right up until the last scene.
Ed Harris produced (with Robert Knott and Ginger Sledge), wrote (with Robert Knott), directed and starred (as Virgil Cole) in “Appaloosa.” His major co-stars included Viggo Mortensen (Everett Hitch) and Jeremy Irons (Randall Bragg). Renée Zellweger starred as Allison French when Diane Lane dropped out of the project.
Harris and Mortensen played “quiet and understated” brilliantly. Mortensen especially spent much of the movie quietly watching the other actors, but never being lost and often dominating the screen. Irons was established as the epitome of evil in the first five minutes, making it easy for us to root for his demise.
Jeff Beal was responsible for the music, and Dean Semler was the director of photography. “Appaloosa” was filmed in New Mexico and Texas.
There is beauty in language. I have written elsewhere that in “True Grit,” Charles Portis writes in a way that is surprising to those who have only seen “howdy, pardner” Westerns. “Appaloosa” is the same way. It is so evident that Parker, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, loved language and loved words. He even has a running bit where Virgil Cole is constantly trying to improve his vocabulary, but struggles to do so, turning to Everett for help. “Appaloosa” is the rare movie that could be listened to without picture and still thoroughly enjoyed.