Appaloosa Blu-ray Review: A History of Law-Abiding Violence

Ed Harris may be mainly known for his work as an actor, but the skills he has behind the camera deserve some recognition as well. Appaloosa is the second directorial effort from the four-time Oscar-nominated actor, and it allows him to bring back some traditional styling to the genre while also giving it some invigoration. It doesn’t break new ground in terms of genre filmmaking, and I wouldn’t hold it to the same standard as Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven or Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in terms of it being revolutionary. But, for two hours, I was able to sit back and enjoy the world that Harris brought to life from a novel of the same name by Robert B. Parker.  

Buy Appaloosa Blu-ray

Harris plays lawman Virgil Cole, who is skilled in his marksmanship but struggles with literacy. He usually relies on his deputy, Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), when it comes to finding the right words to say. The two lawmen have been partners for years, and they’ve been able to protect many people from whatever evil embarks on the towns they enter. The two are recently hired by the town of Appaloosa to do away with Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), a rancher who has brought terror to the town.

There’s already a great battle of wits at play here, with Harris and Mortensen going back and forth as longtime friends and partners tend to do, and the always-reliable Irons is able to slip into the menacing role of Randall Bragg easily. Just the three of them together would propel this closer to classic Western territory. But then another conflict comes into play in Allison French (Renée Zellweger). She’s a widow who enters the town with just one dollar to her name and not a place to call home. She attracts the attention of Virgil, and there may be something brewing between her and Everett as well.

While Zellweger is a fine actress, and her performance here is acceptable, her subplot does seem to be a bit of an unnecessary detour in the story. Granted, the love-interest conflict is typically applicable to the western genre, but it drags down the main attractions of the film – the Harris/Mortensen chemistry and the entertaining gunfights.

Appaloosa was something I hadn’t seen since its initial release in 2008, and I remember enjoying it while others I knew at the time did not. Upon revisiting, I can see some potential reasons for not liking the movie – namely in the Zellweger subplot. But Harris has such a smooth and confident hand in directing that it’s easy to get whisked away for nearly two hours and just simply enjoy the movie for what it is. I could watch Harris and Mortensen go back and forth with each other for hours and never grow tired of it.

The Blu-ray for Appaloosa does a fine job of restoring the film, capturing every sound of gunfire and every image of the open range exquisitely. There’s nearly one hour of special features, all of which are from previous releases. They include many deleted or alternate scenes and interviews with the cast and crew.

Far more humorous and enjoyably fun than I remembered, Appaloosa hearkens back to the days when westerns served as mere entertainment and didn’t have to try something new to please moviegoers. It’s a simple and straightforward effort from Harris that will keep the viewer engaged, and I’m hoping it will garner more appreciation in the years to come.

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David Wangberg

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