Appaloosa (2008) – 4/5

A weird, but entertaining and occasionally quite funny Western that gives the illusion of predictability at first, but quickly evolves into something deeper and more complex than you’d expect from a film about men in big hats shooting guns and riding horses. It’s also really well shot, acted, and structured, which is extremely unusual for a film written, directed, and starring the same person: Ed Harris. Granted he had a ton of help, and this is by no means a one man show, but still, a good actor who’s also a talented filmmaker whose skills aren’t just a product of hype? Why, that’s almost unheard of.  Very impressive.

The film is choppy at times, though, and the dialogue feels a little “chummy” in parts, with some exchanges feeling like they were pulled out of a sitcom, but whatever; they’re amusing and it all works in the end. Characters are multi-layered and unique, especially Renée Zellweger who looks kind of weird here for some reason but gives arguably one of the strongest female performances I’ve seen in some time. The film never quite explains her motivations, which make her many interactions with the men here all the more interesting. And Viggo Mortensen is just outstanding. A great, great actor. Harris is good here too, but Zellweger and Mortensen really steal the show.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. The plot is somewhat unpredictable despite having a pretty basic premise, mostly thanks to good pacing and some great character development. And the story plays out in ways you wouldn’t expect, twisting and turning with ease yet never feeling false or forced. The only element that felt out-of-place was Jeremy Irons, though I haven’t figured out if it was due to his performance or the way his character was written or a mix of the two. He was good, he just felt off, I don’t know. But a really good, smart film. Probably not for everyone, but I enjoyed it.

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