Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ed Harris|
|Produced by||Ed Harris
|Written by||Ed Harris
|Music by||Jeff Beal|
|Editing by||Kathryn Himoff|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Running time||115 minutes|
Appaloosa is an American western based on the 2005 novel, Appaloosa, by crime writer Robert B. Parker. Directed by Ed Harris and co-written by Harris and Robert Knott, Appaloosa stars Harris alongside Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger and Jeremy Irons. The film premiered in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and was released in selected cities on September 19, 2008, then expanded into wide-release on October 3, 2008.
The movie shares some narrative similarities with the 1959 Western Warlock, directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn and Richard Widmark. There is also a 1966 Western named The Appaloosa which stars Marlon Brando, but the two films are unrelated.
In 1882, the small town of Appaloosa, New Mexico, is being terrorized by local rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), who killed the town's marshal, Jack Bell (Robert Jauregui), and two of his deputies when they came to his ranch to arrest two of his men. The town decides to hire lawman and town-tamer Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and his deputy, Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), to protect and regain control of the town. The pair have only one condition: that they will not be tried for any crime they commit while in the town's employment. The council members agree and the lawmen begin taking control by confronting four of Bragg's men who are causing a disturbance in the saloon. Three men refuse to allow themselves to be arrested, forcing Cole and Hitch to kill them. The fourth man surrenders and leaves the saloon. Bragg has a meeting with Cole and Hitch, initiating a stand-off.
Cole meets a new arrival to the town, the recently widowed Allie French (Renée Zellweger), who has traveled west to find a new life. The two start a relationship, and soon buy a house together. However, Allie is revealed to be promiscuous and attempts to seduce Hitch when they are alone. Despite having shown previous interest in her, he refuses her advances out of loyalty to Cole.
When one of Bragg's men tells Cole and Hitch he will testify that he witnessed Bragg gun down the Marshall, Bragg is tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang. En route via train to his execution, Bragg is rescued by guns-for-hire Ring and Mackie Shelton (Lance Henriksen and Adam Nelson), old acquaintances of Cole, who have captured Allie and bring her along as a hostage. Cole allows Bragg to leave with the Shelton brothers to protect her.
Cole and Hitch catch up with the outlaws and discover that Allie is not a hostage when they see her and Ring Shelton frolicking naked together in a stream. After a brief fight with Chiricahua Apache, they turn Bragg in to the sheriff of Beauville, the nearest town. Unbeknownst to Cole, Sheriff Russell (Argos MacCallum) is a cousin of the Shelton brothers. Knowing that Cole is determined to bring Bragg to the gallows, they free Bragg and challenge Cole and Hitch to a gunfight. Before the fight, Hitch asks Cole if he is fighting for justice, or for Allie. In the ensuing battle, both lawmen are wounded but manage to kill Ring, Mackie, and Russell. Bragg, however escapes on horseback. The two return to Appaloosa with Allie.
Some time later, Bragg is granted a full pardon by President Chester Arthur (who he previously claimed to have known) and returns to Appaloosa in an attempt to publicly reform himself. He buys the hotel and ingratiates himself with the locals. Privately, he threatens Cole and Hitch if they should pose a further problem. Hitch also discovers that Allie is in a secret relationship with Bragg. Unable to deal with Bragg legally, and to give Cole a chance with the woman he loves, he quits his job as deputy and challenges Bragg to a duel in front of Allie. Although Cole attempts to stop him, Hitch remains steadfast. He kills Bragg, and then leaves town; his parting words express his hope that Cole can find happiness with Allie.
- Ed Harris as Virgil Cole
- Viggo Mortensen as Everett Hitch
- Renée Zellweger as Allie French
- Jeremy Irons as Randall Bragg
- Lance Henriksen as Ring Shelton
- Adam Nelson as Mackie Shelton
- Timothy Spall as Phil Olson
- Ariadna Gil as Katie
- James Gammon as Earl May
- Tom Bower as Abner Raines
- Rex Linn as Sheriff Clyde Stringer
- Corby Griesenbeck as Charlie Tewksbury
- Timothy V. Murphy as Vince Sullivan
- Agathe Golaszewska as Kid
- Makenzie Vega as Stunt
Bob Harris, Ed Harris's father, has a small role as Judge Elias Callison.
Appaloosa marks Ed Harris's second outing as director, following the 2000 biopic Pollock, which he also starred in; Harris co-wrote and co-produced Appaloosa with Robert Knott. The budget for Appaloosa was $20 million and filming took place from October 1, 2007 to November 24, 2007 around Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Austin, Texas. Harris was drawn to Robert B. Parker's bestselling novel because it was constructed like a classic Western, but included crime themes still relevant to contemporary society. He purchased the rights to the novel and hired Parker to adapt his book into a screenplay. Harris, who also stars as Virgil Cole, wanted to make the film in the old-fashioned style of such films as 3:10 to Yuma, My Darling Clementine and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, rather than a revisionist approach. Harris also acknowledged the challenge of making a successful Western movie, saying, "You can count on one hand, or maybe half a hand, the number of Westerns that were box office successes in the recent past." Production of Appaloosa slowed when New Line Cinema and producers became concerned with the box office prospects of a Western during a season with such anticipated blockbusters as The Dark Knight. Diane Lane originally signed on to play Allie French, but left the project when the film stalled. The movie got back on track due to the success of the Deadwood series on HBO and the film remake of 3:10 to Yuma. Renée Zellweger was signed to replace Lane.
Harris enjoyed working with Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence and had him in mind for the part of Everett Hitch. While publicizing A History of Violence at the Toronto Film Festival, Harris handed Mortensen a copy of the novel and asked him to read it and consider playing the part. Harris said it was "a totally awkward proposition, handing another actor a book like that," but Mortensen agreed to take the part after responding well to the character and the relationship dynamic between the two characters. Harris said he wanted to make the film because he was drawn to the "unspoken comradeship" of Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. "Though they've been hanging out 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." Mortensen felt similarly, saying, "I like to ride horses, and I like Westerns, but there are a lot of bad ones. What set this one apart is just how the characters are a little more guarded." Mortensen studied Frederic Remington drawings and other images of the American Old West to get into character and master the proper way to stand during a gunfight.
The DVD includes a number of bonus extra featurettes, including "Dean Semler's Return to the Western." Although cinematographer Semler has been a pioneer in shooting digital movies, he was glad for this special opportunity to shoot a traditional old-fashioned Western using classic film stock technology. 
The soundtrack was produced and composed by Jeff Beal and contains 25 songs.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Appaloosa is "Certified Fresh" with a rating of 76%, based on 159 reviews. The consensus reads, "A traditional genre western, Appaloosa sets itself apart with smart psychology, an intriguing love triangle, and good chemistry between the leads."
Early reviews of Appaloosa from the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival were lukewarm. Brad Frenette of the National Post said "the film feels double its 114-minute running time, but Appaloosa redeems itself through unexpected moments of levity, Harris's steady direction and the god amongst men, Lance Henriksen." Frenette also said Renee Zellweger is "mostly a bust" and Viggo Mortensen "oozes cool." Popjournalism reviewer Sarah Gopaul said Harris and Mortensen spend too much time talking and discussing their feelings, which she said made the film too light for the gritty Western genre. Gopaul said Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen delivered decent performances and that Renee Zellweger's character has more depth than the traditional romantic interest in a Western. The New Yorker’s David Denby called it “a well-made, satisfying, traditionalist Western with some odd quirks and turns.”  Western history buffs note the Appaloosa breed of horse comes from over 1,000 miles from New Mexico where this story is set. The Appaloosa was the horse of the Nez Perce Indians of northeast Oregon, southeast Washington and especially north-central Idaho, where the tribal headquarters are located. Specifically, the area in and around the Palouse prairie is the region from which the name derives.
The film appeared on some critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008. Ray Bennett of The Hollywood Reporter named it the 8th best film of 2008, and Mike Russell of The Oregonian named it the 10th best film of 2008.
- "Appaloosa (2008)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved Jan 25, 2010.
- Michael Fleming; Dave McNary (August 6, 2007). "Zellweger to star in 'Appaloosa'". Variety. Retrieved Apr 11, 2008.
- French, Cameron "An Old West shootout at the Toronto film festival." Reuters, September 6, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-9-22.
- "Appaloosa (2008)." Dark Horizons, September 17, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-9-22.
- "For a few dollars more." The Times, August 31, 2008. Retrieved on Aug. 31, 2008.
- Kirschling, Gregory. "Fall Movie Summer Preview, September: Appaloosa." Entertainment Weekly, Iss. #1007/1008, August 22/29, 2008, pg.48.
- "Viggo Mortensen rides tall in Cowboys & Indians magazine." eMediaWorld.com, September 3, 2008. Retrieved on Sep. 3, 2008.
- THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan; geocities.com/gamut_mag/appaloosa.htm
- Rotten Tomatoes.com - Appaloosa
- Frenette, Brad. "Appaloosa (2.5 stars)." National Post, September 3, 2008. Retrieved on Sep. 3, 2008.
- Gopaul, Sarah. "Toronto International Film Festival 2008: Appaloosa." Popjournalism, September 3, 2008. Retrieved on Sep. 3, 2008.
- David Denby, New Yorker, brief: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/reviews/film/appaloosa_harris; September 2008 full review: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2008/09/29/080929crci_cinema_denby?currentPage=all
- "Metacritic: 2008 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Archived from the original on January 2, 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2009.[dead link]