In 2005, when Ed Harris arrived at the Toronto Film Festival to promote A History of Violence with his costar Viggo Mortensen, he brought a book along with him. Harris wanted Mortensen to read Appaloosa, the 2005 Western novel by crime writer Robert B. Parker that he was hoping to turn into a movie. In addition to co-writing and directing the project, Harris thought he’d play Virgil Cole, the laconic lawman who sets about cleaning up the titular 1880s town, and he wanted Mortensen to play Everett, Cole’s even more laconic sidekick. “It’s a totally awkward proposition, handing ? another actor a book like that,” Harris says, laughing. “But I enjoyed working with Viggo in A History of Violence, and I thought he’d respond to the material.”
Mortensen did. Like Harris, he was drawn to the quiet, layered friendship between the two cowboys — which is tested by Zellweger as the woman who tries to woo them both. “I like to ride horses, and I like Westerns, but there are a lot of bad ones,” Mortensen says. “What set this one apart is just how the characters are a little more guarded.” Says Harris: “I was just drawn to the unspoken comradeship of these guys. Though they’ve been hanging for years, they’re not too intimate, but they know each other. Aside from in sports, or being a cop, I can’t think of any other situation where a friendship like that is called for.”
The result is a decidedly old-fashioned oater — Harris shunned a revisionist approach. “I love the original 3:10 to Yuma, My Darling Clementine, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” says Harris, who’s directing for the first time since 2000’s Pollock. “This movie is definitely in the classic mode.”
OUR TWO CENTS We love the casting, but even Harris admits, “You can count on one hand — or maybe half a hand — the number of Westerns that were box office successes in the recent past.” 9/17
DEEP DIVE At b-westerns.com, a site devoted to programmer Westerns from the 1920?s to the 1950?s, you can find bio pages for stars like Lash LaRue, old B-western movie posters, and even a page devoted to the logos of old B-western distribution companies like Hopalong Cassidy Productions, Inc.