Appaloosa (Harris, 2008)

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Or, the destructive softening of Western badasses. Ed Harris’ curious deconstruction of Wild West stoicism is at times inept and surprisingly tedious. However, by the end of the film it’s revealed that ineptitude and tedium represent a key theme when looking at these particular characters’ weaknesses. Rene Zellwegger’s character, a flimsy tart who strolls into town and manipulates a power struggle between a legendary lawman (Harris) and an Eastern thug (Jeremy Irons), unearths the whiney undertones of both hero and villain by flocking from one to the next depending who has the power. The film’s conscience, played by Viggo Mortensen, watches in terror as his ideological code crumbles before him. Unlike the kinetic gunplay of Open Range or even Unforgiven, Appaloosa paints violence in broad and lifeless tones, more offshoots of the dramatic crisis between the characters than genre conventions. As a Western lover, I can’t say Appaloosa is that enjoyable, simply because it attempts to show these Western archetypes as simpletons looking for the basic necessities of life – love, stability, and identity. Locale and lingo play almost no role in this character study, and as Mortensen’s roughneck rides into the sunset disappointed and dejected, we can’t help but share his confusion. Where have all the heroes gone? According to Appaloosa, they weren’t there in the first place.