I like a good western. They don’t seem to come along as often as they once did, but I think “The Unforgiven” started a resurgence of them; at least that’s what it feels like. Last year’s remake of “3:10 To Yuma” was great. So when I hear about a western with Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen and Jeffrey Irons, well, who wouldn’t be interested?
Two lawmen for hire, Virgil Cole (Harris) and Everett Hitch (Mortensen) are asked to become the Marshalls of the town of Appaloosa, so they can squelch the criminal acts of a rancher and his men. Harris and Mortenson have been working together for ten years, maybe more. But then, someone enters their lives and threatens their partnership.
That someone is the squinty-faced Renee Zellweger. What’s with her weird smile? I think she’s a decent actress and all, but that’s getting kinda freaky. So, yes, she’s the variable in Cole and Hitch’s law-preserving duo. Ain’t it always a woman?
This was actually a pretty good film, but it wasn’t one of those sweeping, overly grandiose dramatic westerns. It’s definitely understated, more subtle, and perhaps a more realistic portrayal of the 1880’s West. There are gunfights, but not every shot hits the mark, and not everyone comes out without a scratch.
Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch make an interesting pair. Hitch is the deputy to Cole’s Marshall. Yet Cole, a simple man with a very strict code and perhaps a slight temper problem, often requires Hitch to fill in a word when he can’t think of the perfect one for his thoughts.
Cole also isn’t used to a clean, educated woman like Allison French (Zellweger) and is taken by her, as she is by him. They start a relationship faster than a couple of serial daters with a free Saturday night. In fact, that’s kind of the problem with Allison; she’s a widow and needs a man in her life. Any man. When she finds that Cole’s job of being Marshall takes up a lot of his time, well, you can see where this is going. Things get complicated with Cole, Allison and Hitch. But not how you’d think.
Right when you think it’s going to go exactly where you think, it doesn’t. And then there’s Jeremy Irons as Randall Bragg. He’s the rancher who’s causing so much trouble with his men killing folks and dong the usual old west thieving. Things come to a head and it makes for a satisfying finale.
I definitely enjoyed “3:10 To Yuma” more than this, but still, Ed Harris directs a decent western. In addition, he and Mortensen are great and eminently watchable. Jeremy Irons does a fine job, but not necessarily memorable. Zellweger is fine, but, you know, Squinty McSquinterson is certainly hard to forget. You’ll also find Lance Henriksen here, whom I love, looking all of his 68 years.
The characters and their relationships are interesting to watch here, Harris and Mortensen in particular. This isn’t a bad western – not amazing, but still worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of the genre.
Neal T. Weakley