Wed October 1, 2008
Buddies in love . . .
If Ed Harris's Appaloosa weren't such a good film, it would be a risible parody of the western genre, replete with hired lawmen/gunmen, bad guy big shot with his baddies, femme fatale, and never ending banter, brush, and blue sky. But it is solid drama involving friendship tested, love uncertain, and choices not easy to make between justice and revenge.
As Virgil (Harris) and Everett (Vigo Mortensen) arrive in a small 19th century New Mexico town, they are hired by the central-casting town fathers to shoo away some malicious "flies" (I've unknowingly slinked into The Magnificent Seven) headed by the coolly corrupt Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), who all help themselves to town goods without paying and blow away a sheriff and two deputies who came out to the ranch to imprison two of the bad guys.
The real conflict outside the usual oater good and bad standoffs is the pretty newcomer, Mrs. Alison French, played by Renee Zellweger, whose roving eye doesn't stop Virgil from falling in love with her. Poor Everett?she comes on to him, and he won't tell Virgil, although her complex character eventually reveals itself to the na?ve Virgil. Good ambiguity in this romance, subtle by contrast with the downright cowardice of Grace Kelly's wife in High Noon. Virgil struggles to accept her in the face of her infidelity, and Everett struggles with his love for Virgil and dislike of Mrs. French's roaming.
The film tries to explain the survival techniques of a lone woman in the territories, and in so doing it makes it easier to understand the situational ethics employed by the disenfranchised anywhere at any time. The film is equally interested in the relationship of the two buddies, not Butch and Sundance?they're not serious enough, and not Montgomery Clift and John Ireland seemingly in love in Red River, and not the eventually gay twosome in Brokeback Mountain.
However, they are ever so much straight guys like me with close buddies for whom loyalty is coin of the realm, not sex.
The shots are long and slow, the conversation equally so, and the intersecting interests are a microcosm of world politics. Besides the stunning landscapes, the camera loves the close ups of Harris and Mortensen, both with chiseled features seeming to come out of the rough-hewn landscape.
I was rhapsodic about Open Range and 3:10 to Yuma, and now I'm throwing another A at another revival much to the amusement of my radio buddy, Johnny DiLoretto, who, at a young age, loves even older oaters than I. I know you're going to accuse all of us of escaping from women, but really, we're running to them getting help from buddies along the way.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com