Appaloosa

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(2008) ★★★★★

Sky Movies Select: Thursday 2 July, 1.50pm and 10.05pm

The two big westerns heading up Hollywood’s 21st century stampede back to the range were Brad Pitt’s Jesses James epic and Russell Crowe’s 3:10 to Yuma. Their failure consigned the unheralded Appaloosa to the caboose. A real shame, because – adapted from a book by Jesse Stone author Robert B. Parker – it best exemplifies that endangered species, the traditional, non-revisionist western. Copper mines have brought ruthless landgrabber Jeremy Irons out to the New Mexico Territory where, in the town of Appaloosa, his henchmen are riding roughshod over the locals. But the town now has a serious new marshal in Ed Harris: “I don’t kill people for a living,” says the stony-faced peacekeeper. “I enforce the law… killing is sometimes a by-product of that.” His partner is Civil War veteran Viggo Mortensen, who doesn’t say much but keeps his 8-gauge shotgun cocked. In an extreme departure from their previous collaboration, on David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence the two of them communicate mostly in small shared smiles of understanding. Renée Zellweger has a role to play in Ed’s new life but this fine western is ultimately No Country for Young Women. Like Kevin Costner’s under-valued Open Range, Appaloosa has an engaging lived-in feel that goes deeper than mere elegy, and a strong vein of pawky humour. “You think we do this kind of work because we’re afraid of dying?” says Ed to Irons’ gang of goons. Harris directed this laconic picture, splendidly – every character looks and acts like they rightfully belong in this dusty world. The outstanding photography is by Australian cameraman Dean Semler, whose numerous credits include Costner’s Dances With Wolves and the iconic TV mini-series Lonesome Dove. For those with a taste for authentic westerns, Sky Movies Greats has Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in John Sturges’ Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) at 3.25pm, while James Stewart stars in Anthony Mann’s Bend of the River (1952), Film4 at 4.50pm.

Certificate: 15

Duration: 115min