Jeremy Irons “steals the film”

September 4, 2008

by Paul Fischer

Directing just his second feature, Ed Harris’ “Appaloosa” is a classic Western based on the popular novel about two self-appointed US Marshals hired to clean up a town run by a murderous rancher [Jeremy Irons]. Harris stars as Virgil Cole, who is teamed up with friend Everett Hitch [Viggo Mortensen]. Into Cole’s life comes Allie [Renée Zellweger], an independent woman of sorts, desperate to find a man to protect her from the harshness of the West.

“Appaloosa” is a Western that takes its cues from the likes of “Rio Bravo”, thus hving a classic Western structure. Yet it takes its time to delineate characters and does so with skill. As with Westerns of old, “Appaloosa” is about men and violence, the lawlessness of the late 1800s in post-Civil War America. This film bristles with violence and humanity, and explores the nature of morality in an amoral world.

Harris not only directs this fine film with clarity of vision but also delivers another stellar performance, though its Jeremy Irons, as the film’s multi-faceted antagonist, who steals the film. The movie’s one flaw is the miscasting of Zellweger, who seems incapable of doing little more than either pout or smile forcibly in a one-note performance that detracts from the major plot of the film. Beyond that, we have a finely textured, riveting Western that marks a welcome return to a classic American genre.