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Sunday, September 18, 2011

APPALOOSA (2008)

The Western is the default genre of choice for a surprisingly long & starry list of actors who occasionally direct. Now, Ed Harris joins Robert Redford, Billy Bob Thornton, Kevin Costner & Tommy Lee Jones out on the trail. This is a chamber-sized morality tale, a throwback in theme & style to the ‘50s Westerns Randolph Scott made with helmer Budd Boeticher. But Scott’s blunt authority is swapped for a harmonious duet, Harris & Viggo Mortensen as lawmen for hire. They ‘fix’ towns in trouble, shooting first & asking questions later. And there’s double-trouble in Appaloosa: Jeremy Irons’ law-defying rancher and RenĂ©e Zellweger’s moral-denying new-girl-in-town. Harris works too hard at keeping a deliberate pace, the restrained editing & reliance on two-shots starts to feel self-conscious, even self-congratulatory. (‘Look Ma, no reverse over-the-shoulder close-ups!) But his adherence to the rules of filmmakers past grows more organic (and largely pays off) as the plot starts to twist in the late-innings. But probably nothing could have been done to help Ms Zellweger. She looks like she’s having an anaphylaxis reaction to something. Real bee-stung lips? And might she lay off on the Shirley MacLaine vocal tics? Concentrate instead on Viggo M who grew a perfectly awful patch of facial hair for the role. He’s great.

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