I love westerns! I wish I could see four or five new westerns every year. I'd even accept a good TV western instead of in a theatre. Westerns are such a classic "American" genre and the good new ones seem to be popular so I'm not sure why there can't be more. They are too old fashioned I suppose but that's one of the things I like best about them. These days, if it didn't come from a comic book or graphic novel or is some franchise of sequels--Hollywood wants nothing to do with it. I'd take an "old fashioned" western such as Appaloosa over Batman and that ilk any day of the week.
Appaloosa, set in New Mexico territory in 1882, is an amiable little film that offers up subtle delights from start to finish. Directed by Ed Harris, who also stars alongside Viggo Mortensen, Appaloosa takes a lot of the traditional elements from westerns but uses them with a deft touch so the film feels comfortable in the formula.
The story is familiar--a rogue rancher (Jeremy Irons) kills a town's lawmen. New guns are needed. Enter Virgil (Harris) and Everett (Mortensen). Bloodletting occurs. There's a woman of course (Renee Zellweger in all her sour faced, sucking on a lemon glory). There's gunfights, stare downs, Indians, lovable whores, quick draws, smoke belching trains, horses, winchesters, James Gammon and his wonderful gravel voice, jail cells, more shootouts--it's a western after all.
One of the best things about Appaloosa is the dialogue and level of performances of the lead actors (aside from "sourface" as she drives me crazy). There's lots of little moments between characters and in these moments there is a sly level of humor that doesn't exist in the few westerns that come out now. New westerns take themselves very seriously but the characters in Appaloosa have a wry sense of humor and it makes them warmer and more well rounded as characters.
Appaloosa won't break any new molds for the western genre but I don't think that was the goal for Harris and co. It's a satisfying film I enjoyed many levels. Mostly, I'm just happy to see a quality western in a theatre. Hopefully I'll get to see an increase to two of them in 2009.