Sunday, March 01, 2009
Cast: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Jeremy Irons, Renee Zellweger
Director: Ed Harris
Runtime: 116 min.
The woman with no name is here. She even squints her eyes, only that she’s awfully annoying. No she doesn’t wield guns nor does she shoot one-liners. How she provides for the female version of the great character from the westerns and acknowledges his lack of morals and a lack of any allegiance is by sleeping around with the top dog. She will. With anybody. With anybody who holds the trump card in a town. She doesn’t even need a reason. It is all spontaneous, as if every atom of her aligns itself towards the alpha male around. She does provide a name, Allison something, and through her Appaloosa brings one of the dumbest characters of the year. Hell it isn’t even a character, and neither is it a caricature. For all its characteristics that mould themselves a million times more fluidly than that of T-1000, she is no more than a goddamn MacGuffin (for the uninitiated the definition of the word lay here).
To introduce her in the most male of all genres, where traditionally even the female often has to try and be a male (True Grit, The Missing), is just a ruse to move the plot forward when one feels it has no reason to. For that matter everything here is a ruse. Appaloosa is one hell of a boring ride based on a stupid and often illogical plot. Randall Bragg (Mr. Irons) is the bad guy because he is supposed to be the bad guy. He kills the town Marshall because hey, how else will the plot get going. The town officials seek the help of gunman Virgil Cole (Mr. Harris) and his deputy Everett Hitch (Mr. Mortensen), who do the job of maintaining peace. For that end they even shoot bad guys for as much as peeing in the bar. Cole even knocks some innocent dude half-dead. If you believe the western has always reflected the politics of its times, and if you wonder Cole & Hitch somehow represent Blackwater & co., the film doesn’t take that analogy anywhere. So let us forget about that.
And let us talk about how many wasted shots there are in the film. Or how too many angles and too many edits just spoil the game here. I tried unendingly to ignore but the editing is so bad it kept bothering me every step of the way. One of the worst things as an audience is to find yourself invested in a scene graced by some mighty fine acting only to be distracted by needless cutting. Let me cite a scene as evidence, where Everett has just returned to the office after escorting Allison to her hotel room and Virgil is relaxing on the porch (the attached image is the scene I’m referring to). This is one of the many scenes showcasing the laidback camaraderie between the two men. Such a sequence demands one long take with zero edits where the audience is allowed to soak in every bit of the riffing without ever forcing them what to see. And the film does that mistake, just when we are beginning to have fun. Orchestration and the effectiveness of a sequence are diluted severely as a result. One might realize how the constraints lend the film its finest realized moments. As on a train where the film has scope for minimum angles and hence long shots with little or no edits. This is where the film is as its most engrossing.
Further the film messes its reaction shots, showing them through close-ups. A reaction, especially in such a casual film, is most effective when it is in the same frame as the causative action. It is most enjoyed when the audience is allowed to read it by themselves. The editing is simply uninspired undermining the fine acting these two men are putting here. What is not fine is Ms. Zellweger for her very presence these days leads one to cringe. What is most astonishing is that every man in town could fall for her and her puffy cheeks. That speaks very low of their standard of choice, and maybe reveals their utter desperation.
I said the film is long. More than that it feels long. That is because it follows its plot rather than plain logic. Once Bragg is sentenced why not hang him right there? For that matter why does Bragg lead the life of a goon when he can pull strings and be the owner of a fine hotel and lead a life of respect? No idea. Only that it rambles on and on endlessly, saved only by Mr. Mortensen and Mr. Harris. And occasionally by Mr. Irons. Outside of these three this is pretty abysmal.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 11:53 PM