It’s good to see Westerns still being made as it’s probably the most mythic of Hollywood genres; that is, the ideological machinations are so near the surface that the subtext is barely submerged. What does Ed Harris (director, star, co-scriptwriter and co-producer) make of it?
Its rather meandering narrative switches between a variety of generic tropes: the rancher vs townspeople (assuming ranching is what Jeremy Irons’ villain – Randall Bragg – does); the good sheriff against the bad guys; the chase with Indians thrown in; the eventual dismissal of the the good men of violence as corporate corruption takes hold of the town (Bragg is cosying up with the towns’ aldermen). None of these really takes hold as it’s the buddy movie (Harris and Viggo Mortensen) that dominates and the narrative disruption is created by Renee Zellweger’s floosy. Actually Zellweger’s character is more well-drawn than the term suggests; her attraction to the ‘top man’ is shown to be driven by fear.
If the film sounds a bit of a mish-mash then that’s what it is. Shoot-outs are included but the parts are greater than the whole: Dean Semler’s cinematography captures the bright blue sky, and browns of the land, beautifully; Harris’ direction uses the widescreen well; the leads’ performances are appropriately taciturn.
SPOILER: What is it speaking ideologically? Like many examples of the genre, it is misogynist; Harris’ Virgil Cole’s attraction to Zellweger’s Allison French threatens to demasculate him (he has to choose material for curtains) and his relationship with Mortensen’s Everett Hitch (as usual, the characters’ names in Westerns are great) cannot continue with her around. In its mangling of tropes Appaloosa is a very (post?)modern Western but its sexual politics are similar to those of the classics.