Appaloosa is a Western that tries to be square and hip, light and dark, all at the same time. Maybe it's no surprise that the results are mixed. Ed Harris, who directed the film (it's his first time behind the camera since Pollock eight years ago), also stars as Virgil Cole, a roving freelance law enforcer of the 1800s who shows up in the town of Appaloosa along with his taciturn sidekick, Everett (Viggo Mortensen). For a price, they offer to rid the town of Randall Bragg, a sneering bully and killer played by Jeremy Irons in what could almost be a grungier impersonation of Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. Irons is enjoyably nasty, enough to make you wonder why no one thought to cast him in a Western before.
Harris, for his part, comes off as a classic sure-shot protector that is, until he beats up a loser in a bar with so much more violence than is necessary that the film seems to be saying this lawman is a bit of a sociopath, too. (The actor's icy gleam certainly suggests it.) The movie, though, pulls back on this idea, and after that scene Virgil is never as interesting. Appaloosa is a pleasingly spacious piece of work, but for all of its little tangles it never musters the kick of a psychological duel. Renée Zellweger, as the peach-blossom-fresh Allison, is the most amoral character here a woman who loves whomever's around but except for her, Appaloosa is a throwback to the age when Westerns were quaint. B-
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