Ed Harris | 2008 | 114 mins | USA
Ed Harris returns to the director's chair for the first time since 2000's Pollock, and the result is, at best, a so-so western. Harris and Viggo Mortensen star as Virgil Cole and his trusty sidekick Everett Hitch, two lawmen-for-hire who arrive in the dusty town of Appaloosa in order to rid it of the scourge of Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) and his men, a crew of miscreants who have been abusing the town's reluctant hospitality.
Cole and Hitch quickly lay down the new law, and bring Bragg in to stand trial for the murder of a local Marshall. Of course, then a woman has to come into the picture and muck it all up. Enter Mrs. Allison French (Renée Zellweger), a recent widow who falls for Virgil (or is it Everett)? It's too bad Zellweger, a native Texan, sounds so wooden and awkward with her half-southern accent, and is so hopelessly unsexy as the woman who seduces everyone. Maybe they're just into her because she is literally the only woman in the entire territory.
When Ring Shelton (Lance Henricksen) blows into town and kidnaps Mrs. French (banking on Cole's affection for her as a bargaining chip to exchange her for Bragg), our two lawmen are forced to embark on a mission to set things right.
There's an obvious morality play at the centre of this story between what's lawful and what's right, but it's all too often awkwardly articulated in ham-fisted, expository conversations between Mortensen and his hooker confidante (Spanish actress Ariadna Gil), who only appears in the film to give him an opportunity to voice things that might have been more subtly communicated or even left unspoken. As if the opening and closing voice-over narration weren't enough!
I wanted to see more of the struggle between the Cole and Hitch. While Hitch is moral to a fault, overly bold and often guided by an emotional compass, Cole's tough guy facade hides a passive doormat whose adherence to the law comes at the price of his personal happiness, making him a spineless cuckold. The tension between the lifelong friends would have been a more interesting avenue to explore than the tepid pseudo-love-triangle.
Jeremy Irons is pretty good as the cold-hearted Bragg, but it's unfortunate that his low voice and semi-successful attempt to not speak with a British accent makes him sound a bit like Daniel Plainview. He's better than that, but it's not always apparent in this film.