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Ed Harris
Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Jeremy Irons, Renée Zellweger, Robert Jauregui, Timothy V. Murphy, Luce Rains, James Tarwater, Boyd Kestner, Gabriel Marantz
Writing Credits:
Robert Knott, Ed Harris, Robert B. Parker (novel)

Feelings get you killed.

In marshal Virgil Cole and deputy Everett Hitch's line of work, you shoot quick, you shoot clean and you reload straightaway. No feelings. Feelings get you killed.

Paired as rivals in A History of Violence, Ed Harris (who also directs, produces and co-scripts) and Viggo Mortensen stand together as friends and for-hire peacekeepers Cole and Hitch in a character-driven, bullet-hard Western based on Robert B. Parker's novel. As the woman who arrives in town with only a dollar and a keen sense of survival, Renee Zellweger adds feelings - those things that can get you killed - to a quest to bring murderer Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) to justice. Blood will spill in the town called Appaloosa.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$248.847 thousand on 14 screens.
Domestic Gross
$20.030 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 115 min.
Price: $28.98
Release Date: 1/13/2009

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director/Actor Ed Harris and Writer/Producer Robert Knott
• “Bring the Characters of Appaloosa to Life” Featurette
• “Historic Accuracy of Appaloosa” Featurette
• “The Town of Appaloosa” Featurette
• “Dean Semler’s Return to the Western” Featurette
• Six Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Appaloosa (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (Decemebr 30, 2008)

For more evidence that the Western isn’t dead, we find 2008’s Appaloosa. Ed Harris directs, co-writes and stars in this look at justice in the old west. Set in New Mexico circa 1882, Harris plays Marshal Virgil Cole. Along with his friend/deputy Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), they act as wandering peacekeepers.

This takes them to the town of Appaloosa. Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) owns a ranch and essentially runs roughshod over the locals. When law enforcement comes to arrest some ne’er-do-wells in his gang, Bragg shoots and kills the marshal and his men.

That’s when Cole and Hitch get the call. The leaders of Appaloosa hire them to deal with Bragg and his men. Cole agrees on one condition: that he gets absolute power to amend and enact the law as he sees fit. This means Cole becomes the law, for good or for ill.

In the meantime, a single lady named Allison French (Renee Zellweger) comes to town. Cole immediately takes a shine to her and gets her a job as a piano player in the town’s hotel. Cole and Allison develop a relationship, one that comes with complications. Add to that drama that ensues when Cole arrests Bragg for his murder of the prior marshal and a mix of issues cloud the picture.

I must be getting old, as I have no memory of Appaloosa’s release on the big screen. I figured it appeared on only showed up in a handful of theaters to give it a token run so it would qualify for potential awards. However, a visit to IMDB showed me that Appaloosa actually filled more than 1000 theaters in early October, and it made a bit more than $20 million. That’s not much, but it’s a lot more than the buck-98 I thought it’d earned.

Nonetheless, that still feels like a lackluster run for a movie with a pretty good pedigree. Appaloosa gives off a sheen of “prestige project”, as it provides a more than capable cast. With Irons and Zellweger, we get two Academy Award winners, while both Harris and Mortensen have earned nominations. Besides, ever since Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven, Westerns have become good targets for Oscar love. I don’t think Harris engaged in this flick with the primary aim of award happiness, but I would guess he figured it would give him a shot.

Indeed, Appaloosa occasionally feels like a bit of a vanity project. Given his status as actor/writer/director/producer, Harris goes the same route as Costner and Eastwood in their respective Oscar winners, and the film sometimes comes across as a movie intended to showcase his talents and not much else.

That may sound harsh, and it probably is a bit unfair, as I don’t want to leave the impression that Appaloosa is some fluffy Ode to Ed. However, the film does focus on his character in a way that simply gives off the air of something mainly intended to bolster Harris’s presence more than to tell a tale.

Part of that impression stems from the fact that the story is a bit of a mess. Matters come together better in its second half, but the first 45-50 minutes seems disjointed at best. Appaloosa spreads itself thin and fails to explore its themes and concepts in a satisfying way. One minute it comes across as a morality tale about justice, but then it turns into a buddy flick or a light romance.

Of course, a good movie can integrate a mix of tones and themes in a satisfying way. Unfortunately, Harris just can’t meld the different concepts in a concise manner. For instance, early in the film we see an obvious parallel with the modern world in terms of terrorist threats. Cole’s demand of absolute power in exchange for his ability to keep the town safe sounds awfully familiar in this post-9/11 “Patriot Act” world.

Does Appaloosa offer an exploration of this subject? Nope. It hints at it at times, and we get a glimmer of Cole’s dark side, but this topic largely remains undeveloped. The film seems like a thematic mess, as it never can quite figure out what tone it prefers.

It also feels like it’s been heavily truncated. Appaloosa comes from one subject to another in an awkward manner that leaves me with the impression that it suffered heavily in the editing room. For example, the relationship between Hitch and Katie jumps from sly glances to something deeper without warning. Other aspects of the story make similar abrupt leaps, and these leave the tale without much coherence.

Maybe if Harris turned Appaloosa into a three-hour epic, these elements might work better. The film certainly shows signs of life, and with such a good cast, one would expect something better. As it stands, he delivers a movie with potential but not one that satisfies.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

Appaloosa appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Given that Warner Bros. has released a lot of ugly, over-compressed DVDs lately and they distributed Appaloosa for New Line, I worried that the movie would look terrible. To my pleasant surprise, the disc provided a very nice transfer with only a few minor concerns.

Sharpness rarely became one of those issues. Some light edge enhancement meant that a few wide shots showed light softness, but that was an infrequent occurrence. Instead, the majority of the flick offered very good delineation, with impressive clarity in most shots. I noticed a little ropiness and some mild jagged edges along with mild shimmering on a few occasions. Source flaws remained absent; other than a smidgen of grain, this was a clean presentation.

No one expects dynamic colors from a Western, and Appaloosa displayed the sandy hues I anticipated. The palette favored a dusty look, with only minor examples of broader tones. The transfer displayed these in a satisfying manner. Blacks were dark and dense, but shadows tended to seem a bit more erratic. Some of that stemmed from the photographic style, as some thick “day for night” shots appeared. Nonetheless, I thought low-light sequences looked slightly darker than I’d like. Overall, the transfer was very good, with only a smattering of minor concerns that knocked it down to a “B”.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Appaloosa, it provided decent pleasures. For the most part, the soundfield didn’t boast much to impress. Even with potentially dynamic scenes involving gunfire and the like, we didn’t find a ton of action. General ambience ruled the day, and other elements like trains, thunder and horses broadened the horizon the most. These opened up the surrounds well enough, but nothing here proved especially impressive.

Audio quality always satisfied. Speech seemed concise and distinctive, as I noticed no edginess or other concerns. Music displayed nice delineation; the score was always full and rich. Effects also proved quite positive, as those elements sounded clean and accurate. Bass response offered nice depth to the package. Though the mix lacked the ambition for a high grade, it seemed good enough for a “B”.

A few extras flesh out the set. We open with an audio commentary from writer/director/actor Ed Harris and writer/producer Robert Knott. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat, though Knott doesn’t join the piece until about its halfway point. They look at cast and performances, the source novel and its adaptation, character and story issues, cinematography and editing, sets and locations, and a few other production issues.

With such a broad array of subjects, you’d expect the commentary to work really well. However, Harris talks in such a low-key, matter of fact manner that that track tends to plod. This tendency actually gets worse when Knott joins the proceedings; bizarrely, the commentary drags even more with the writer in tow even though I expected he might add some life to things. While Harris goes over quite a few subjects, much of the time his insights remain superficial in this sporadically interesting but often flat chat.

Four featurettes follow. Bringing the Characters of Appaloosa to Life runs seven minutes, 33 seconds, and it features notes from Harris, Knott, director of photography Dean Semler, and actors Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, and Lance Henriksen. The show looks at cast, performances, and the challenges Harris faced as an acting director. Very little concrete information appears here, as this fluffy piece largely just praises everything and everybody involved.

For the 10-minute and 21-second
Historic Accuracy of Appaloosa, we hear from Harris, Mortensen, Irons, Zellweger, costume designer David Robinson, property master Keith Walters, horse wrangler Rex Peterson, stunt coordinator Mike Watson, and locomotive engineer Charlie Greathouse. This program examines period details like costumes and props as well as elements of action staging. To some degree, the show exists to tout the film’s commitment to accuracy, and that makes it somewhat lightweight. Nonetheless, we do get a few good notes about the details, so it’s worth a look.

The Town of Appaloosa fills five minutes, seven seconds with info from Harris, Semler and production designer Waldemar Kalinowski. Here we get a good look at the Appaloose sets. Despite its brevity, this becomes the most substantial of the featurettes we’ve seen so far.

Cinematography comes to the fore via the five-minute, 17-second Dean Semler’s Return to the Western. It features Harris and Semler. The featurette presents a few minor notes about the photography and other aspects of the shoot. Semler throws out some interesting tales but don’t expect much depth.

Six Deleted Scenes last a total of 12 minutes, three seconds. These include “Original Prologue” (4:20), “Walk Up the Stairs” (1:05), “Buggy Ride” (1:31), “Praying Mantis” (1:19), “The Blue Room” (0:54), and “Town Hall Meeting” (2:54). The “Prologue” shows us exactly what led to the visit the town’s original marshal made to Bragg’s ranch, while the others fill in a few dots. They don’t add measurably to the film’s depth, but they may have made it a bit richer.

We can watch the “Deleted Scenes” with or without commentary from Harris and Knott. Once again, Knott adds virtually nothing to the proceedings; he speaks infrequently and tells us nothing noteworthy. Harris doesn’t talk that much either, but at least he gives us a few minor thoughts about the scenes and why he cut them. He also reveals a desire to make a much longer director’s cut. Don’t expect a lot from this part of the disc, though, as Harris remains silent most of the time.

A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Pride and Glory, Rockarolla, Body of Lies and Blu-Ray Disc. No trailer for Appaloosa appears.

Ed Harris delivers a scattered, disjointed Western via Appaloosa. At times the movie feels like a “greatest hits” reel, as it combines hints of other flicks into one unsatisfying whole. The DVD provides positive picture and audio as well as a mediocre roster of extras. Appaloosa fails to become a memorable movie, as it brings nothing new or particularly interesting to its genre.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 17
2 3:
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