|Written by Noah Fleming|
|Thursday, 15 January 2009|
“Appaloosa” contains commanding performances by Ed Harris and Jeremy Irons. Viggo Mortensen also portrays a western deputy well. Renée Zellweger has been better, but is not horrible. Aside from the acting, the story is strong and decently executed.
Unlike many other westerns, this film does not contain a lot of gun slinging. It revolves more around the characters than the ego. Ed Harris stars as Virgil Cole, a peacekeeper that goes where there is a need. Along with his partner, Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), he travels to Appaloosa, in the New Mexico Territory of 1882, to help the town reclaim its independence for the local bandits, led by Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons). The town signs over all lawmaking abilities to Cole. From then on, he sits around the town and just waits for trouble.
Cole’s ultimate motivation is that Bragg is said to have killed the previous City Marshall and his two deputies. He waits for Bragg to slip up, upon which time he will arrest him and try him for murder. Lucky for Cole, one of Bragg’s lowly side hands comes forth to reveal he witnessed Bragg murder the three lawmen. Bragg is arrested and tried before a traveling judge. He is found guilty and sentenced to hang to death.
Unfortunately, during the transportation of the prisoner via train, they are ambushed and forced to set Bragg free. The only reason for this is because Cole’s girlfriend, Mrs. French (Zellweger) is being held captive. Naturally, the bandits do not set Mrs. French free. She is taken and assaulted by the bandits. However, she voluntarily succumbed to the leader of the bandits, making Cole question her love for him. This same lack loyalty toward Cole gets Mrs. French into trouble later with Bragg.
Like all westerns, this film does not have a Hollywood happy ending. That is not to say that everything does not work out, it is just a bittersweet victory.
Ed Harris directed this film as well as starred in it. It is his first return to directing since his 2000 acclaimed film, “Pollack.” His directing is not flawless, but it is impressive. His director of photography did a fine job of framing, and the lighting and set designers did a marvelous job recreating the southwest of 1882. The film is based on all the historic information that the creators could find on the real town of Appaloosa. Thus, this film is said to accurately portray Appaloosa of 1882.
The video quality of this Blu-ray is better than many of the recent New Line releases, however, it still suffers from nasty digital noise reduction. The image is soft and hazy throughout. My eyes could never quite focus in on the picture. They grew tired of trying to compensate for the lack of sharpness in the image. The black levels and contrast are good. Good shadow delineation helps to keep details visible during darkly lit scenes. Backgrounds lacked any type of details. The landscape and mountains lacked any type of distinguishable lines, making the image look blurred. Close-ups contained much better details. The textures visible on the faces are quite good. Costumes don’t yield the same texture pop as the faces. The fleshtones are accurate for the desert light. The film uses a lot of sepia tones. There is some grain and banding visible in the day sky, but it is not exaggerated. A fairly good video presentation, but not as sharp as I would have liked.
Unlike many of the recent New Line Cinema Blu-ray releases, “Appaloosa” contains an uncompressed audio track. The audio presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Unfortunately, there is not much sound design to this western. There surrounds a practically always empty. There were several instances in which surrounds could have been engaged, but for some reason or another the designers chose not to. The production dialogue is plagued with massive amounts of desert wind. It is readily apparent in several of the scenes. It is understandable, as everything is blowing around them, however, the clear and audibility of the dialogue suffers from it. The lines should have been ADR’d. The entire audio track is mastered far too low. I had to crank up my receiver far beyond reference level to even get a decent dialogue audio level. I was expecting to be blow out of my theater when the 8-gauge shotgun was shot. However, even the shotguns were mixed extremely low. There is no dynamic range. The only time the low frequencies are present is when the cowboy boots are walking on the wooden planks of the set. It was pleasing, but did not match with the rest of the film’s sound design. This is a decent audio track, but nothing spectacular.
There is an okay package of bonus materials present on the Blu-ray. First there is a commentary track with actor/director Ed Harris and screenwriter/producer Robert Knott. This is an interesting commentary, but gets a bit dull along the way. There about a half of dozen deleted scenes. They are available with a selectable commentary by Harris and Knott. Lastly, the disc contains four featurettes. “Bringing the Characters of Appaloosa to Life” examines each character. “Historic Accuracy of Appaloosa” talks about the preparation that went into researching the 1882 southwest town. “The Town of Appaloosa” examines the set design. “Dean Semler’s Return to the Western” is a featurette that talks with Dean about his previous experiences with “Young Guns,” “City Slickers,” and others. Finally, the package also contains a separate standard DVD with a digital copy of the film.
“Appaloosa” is a good, but not great western. It has a good story, but the pace moves a little slowly. The video and audio quality are both decent, but also not great. Still, I would have to recommend picking up this film.