"Aren't either of you afraid? Afraid that you might get killed? Oh, I don't know Alley. Guess, I don't think about it that much. Well, I'm afraid, but I'm afraid all the time. Of what? Like being alone. Like being with the wrong man; Not having enough money [or] a place to live. I'll look after ya. For how long?"
"Do you think I'm pretty? You're with Virgil. Virgil's not here right now."
"Put it away or lose it. Put your little contraptions away...You pull on me either one of ya & I'll kill you both."
"Do you do any kind of work? I play the organ & the piano. You're not a prostitute? Don't be crude. Well, there's no sense in fluffing your feathers about it."
Yeah, I know. SW1 is on another western binge again with the 2008 film called "Appaloosa" directed by actor Ed Harris. The film has a running time of 2 hours & even though the title sounds like a Lilith Fair live concert series reunion by founder Sarah McLachlan; this cowboy spurs drama revolves around lawmen & a greedy tycoon--It is very well done as a finished product. The screenplay is based on a book by the author Robert B. Parker with the same title.
The themes of this picture are a brotherhood bond of mutual admiration between 2 men who are hired guns by local community leaders in the New Mexico Territory in 1882. We also see infidelity, cold blooded murder, & the age old question of can any man in the wild, wild west really be tamed & domesticated by the allure of woman or permanent wife? Answer: Not really. We will return to this principle later. The reason I like westerns as a genre is the prospect of iron clad partnerships that are darn near unbreakable. What can penetrate this trust? Why the seduction of a woman of course especially when the female in question is the aggressor or just bidding her time until a better romantic suitor waltzes into town.
In a nutshell, here is the basic plot: A city marshal of Appaloosa named Jack Bell [Robert Jauregui] is gunned down when he rides to the spread of Randal Brag [Jeremy Irons] to incarcerate 2 of Brag's ranch hands for rape & homicide of a stranger & his spouse back in Chicago. Randal refuses to comply with Marshal Bell's order & as a result, this lawman & his deputies are mowed down in a spray of gunfire. There is 1 field hand named Joe Whitfield [Gabriel Marantz] who turns in his boss Mr. Brag because he didn't sign up for murder as a business model for prosperity & fiscal rewards for those who look the other way & keep quiet.
The new lawmen of Appalossa are Virgil Cole played by Ed Harris & Evert Hitch played by Viggo Mortensen. Most of you know Ed Harris from the HBO TV series 'West World' & many of you will recognize Viggo from director Peter Jackson's trilogy 'Lord Of The Rings' as Strider. I really like Hitch's soft spoken demeanor & facial hair look with a large tan sombrero, mustache, & goatee on his chin. Did I mention Evert walks softly, but he carries a very big stick or 8 gauge shotgun? Eat your heart out Theodore Roosevelt. My kind of guy actually. Basically, Virgil & Evert are high priced gunmen who restore law & order in any town that agrees to their demands in return for longterm peace & tranquility. They are standup guys actually not looking to bleed any town financially. I just like how Virgil Cole knows how to work a room or keep criminal riff raff in check. Once a contract has been signed, Mr. Cole & Mr. Hitch enter the saloon & find 2 drunks literally urinating on the floor with their junk exposed for all to see. Virgil tells these fools to zip up & leave. These men, employed by Randal Brag, believe rules don't apply to them & because of their arrogance they get pumped full of lead. That 8 gauge shotgun going off is quite the dispute resolver let me tell ya.
Everything gets flipped upside down when a new lady in town steps off the train. Her name is Alley French [Renée Zellweger.] Alley is well dressed & well educated, but she needs a job & a place to lay her head at night. It turns out that Virgil is smitten with her or attracted to her. So much so in fact that he offers her a position at the hotel being a musical director of hospitality tickling the piano keys. What's funny here is that Evert Hitch is the go between match maker of Virgil & Alley's relationship. It's a reluctant post that Evert clearly doesn't want, but out of respect for his friend & colleague he provides feedback back to Cole about Alley's inquires pertaining to Virgil's romantic status as a potential husband & what style of curtains he prefers in a new home etc. etc. It's funny to watch the banter between Evert & Virgil as they discuss domestication & how Virgil needs to go visit Alley more frequently to get her nagging off his back. Domestication isn't literally spoken of in person, but we all know that's what the fear is--How a wife can make a lawman soft, lower his guard, & get him killed. Yes, I know it's sexist & dumb but you gotta remember most men during this time period as criminals or lawmen paid for intercourse with minimal conversational requirements on average.
The alarming thing about Miss French is this. She was far from faithful to Virgil. She literally kissed & propositioned Evert later in this flick, which he declined or resisted thankfully. Alley wasn't afraid to use her body to improve her standing in life meaning she enjoyed sex & she never hesitated to sleep with another man if it improved her economic prospects down the line. The tragedy here is that Virgil Cole feel head over heels in love with Alley French. However, she just viewed Virgil as a placeholder or warm body until somebody else with more affluence & prestige came along. That man with the better financial portfolio turned out to be Randal Brag who avoided being hung for the murder of Marshal Jack Berry courtesy of a Presidential pardon from Chester A. Arthur.
The friendship between Virgil Cole & Evert Hitch fits the classic model of a bromance very similar to Paul Newman & Robert Redford in 'Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid.' These 2 lawmen are almost like siblings finishing each others thoughts & they work so well together curtailing a violent situation that it's fascinating to watch in action. It's like a mutual admiration society where Evert helps Virgil improve his vocabulary/sophistication & Mr. Cole has Mr. Hitch's back when Alley accuses Evert of trying to take advantage of her sexually. It's almost heartbreaking at the end when Evert tells his best friend Virgil that he must leave Appaloosa for good since that scoundrel Randal has returned, bought the town council, & is on the brink of stealing Alley away from Virgil forever. But before Hitch leaves town; he turns in his badge, threatens Mr. Brag to a duel outside the saloon in the street; & he removes his buddy's romantic rival as a final favor of love & respect for Virgil Cole. Sweet. That's why I call it a bromance man.
I know I say this a lot, but it's true. Silence & eye contact is so powerful when done right & Ed, Jeremy, & Viggo know how to deploy this visual technique to perfection on screen. Silence resonates with me because in film it means some serious bleeping you know what is about to go down & if the audience cares about the main characters at all; we don't wanna see good men die. Or if somebody must die, it must be the right caboose hole in the end for the best conclusion when all is said & done. Let's roll with an A on Appaloosa. The pacing drags at times. Just remember, the bromance between Virgil & Evert is what makes this flick flow & the way Jeremy Iron's character died rolling down 3 steps made me laugh. Plus, since his body is on main street, it makes it easier for the undertaker/mortician to pick the villain up & remove the trash right? Uh huh.