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dir Ed Harris
scr Robert Knott, Ed Harris
with Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, Timothy Spall, Ariadna Gil, Lance Henriksen, Adam Nelson, James Gammon, Tom Bower, Gabriel Marantz, Cerris Morgan-Moyer
release US 19.Sep.08, UK 26.Sep.08
08/US New Line 1h55
We are the law: Mortensen and Harris
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
This finely crafted Western moves at its own speed, slowly and almost regretfully traversing a gripping story while underscoring all of the characters with a realistically dry sense of humour.
In 1882, Appaloosa, New Mexico, is a dusty town that's been left without a marshal because local rancher Bragg (Irons) believes he's above the law. So the townsfolk hire a pair of war-veteran gunmen, Virgil and Everett (Harris and Mortensen), to bring order back to town. They quickly square off against Bragg and his men, vowing to bring them to justice. But first they have to do something about the flirtatious widowed pianist Ally (Zellweger), who's just arrived in town and seems to be interested in both of them.
While there's nothing particularly original about the plot, the characters and the way they interact with each other are strikingly played. As a director, Harris gives the film a steely tone that matches his stare as an actor. It's a skilful simplicity that focuses finely on the people, while Dean Semler's dusty, widescreen cinematography places them into a landscape of expansive deserts and claustrophobic mountain ridges. And while the story plays out with an edge of overseriousness, the witty dialog continually undercuts any earnestness.
Harris and Mortensen are terrific as men who perhaps know each other too well. Their chemistry is extraordinary; even when they're doing nothing, it's fascinating to watch them interact subliminally, especially as the story does everything it can to test their loyalty. After a slightly iffy beginning, Zellweger abandons her face-scrunching for a much more interesting performance that takes Ally far from the usual Western heroine. And Irons adds a superb charismatic gruffness to the anarchic Bragg.
As it progresses, Harris subtly builds from gnawing unease to full-on suspense. This is a sharp, vivid movie that manages to stay true to its setting, keeping the attitude low-key and, yes, wild. We really get the sense that these are people who have moved west to escape the dark memories of the Civil War and the American Indian Wars. And as notions of honour and rightness are challenged in new ways, these grizzled gunmen are forced to do a bit of blue-sky thinking.
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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