Ed Harris‘s Appaloosa is just okay. No, that sounds dimissive. It’s a decent…too negative again. It’s a solid piece of work — how’s that? But dammit, the words “not half bad” keep creeping into my head, which sounds, I realize, like damnation with faint praise. I don’t mean to put it down; I was never in serious pain. But ten minutes in I knew this was no Open Range, which in my book (and the books of many others) is the finest, best-written and most believably recreated western since Unforgiven.
I would put Appaloosa on the level of 3:10 to Yuma, more or less. In fact, I would call it a tiny bit better than that James Mangold western. There are no gay gunslingers (i.e., psychos wearing high-style leather waistcoats with buttons in the back) with makeup dirt caked onto their face. And there are no excessive fetishistic shootouts in which 89 guys get killed. It’s got a nice modest feel to it. And it’s nicely shot, very well acted (particularly by Harris, Viggo Mortensen and bad-guy Jeremy Irons) and “engaging” as far as it goes.
But it’s basically a low-key buddy movie, and as such goes in for charm and humor too much for my taste. No offense but I don’t want to be “entertained” when I’m watching a western — I want to feel it, believe it, smell the horseshit, feel the saddle ache in my ass and sense the wind on my face. Plus it doesn’t have a resounding theme (or not one that I could identify). The theme, such as it is, is basically “women come and go, and even when they come you can’t trust them. Your buddy watching your back is all that really matters in the end.”
It’s fine, it moves along, etc. I can imagine some people going to this thing and loving it. The crowd I saw it with in the Cumberland was laughing a good deal. Well, from time to time. But should you laugh at the jokes in a western? This isn’t Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It doesn’t have that dynamic or the visual stylishens or the movie-star panache. It’s Harris and Mortensen, after all. I wish Irons could have played a good guy. He speaks with his English accent, thank God.
I have to quit again for a 5:30 pm screening upstairs. O’Horten, I’m thinking. And then I’ll head downtown for the public showing of The Burning Plain, and then a chat with director-writer Guillermo Arriaga (who’s leaving town tomorrow for some reason) and then the Burn After Reading party.