Watching “Appaloosa” (and delighting in the dialogue) is returning to those days of old western tales, here the story of two gunslingers (the movie could also be titled “The Magnificent Two”) who sign on as protectors and restorers of the peace to the small town of Appaloosa back in the late 1800s. Virgil Cole (Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) ride into this small, windswept town set against the glories of the New Mexico mountains, where they are hired to confront a bent rancher known as Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) and bring him to some kind of justice after he shoots three lawmen in cold blood.
Next, the local train stops to disembark the widow Allison French (Renee Zellweger) who immediately flirts with Virgil and Everett, asks about a good hotel, is led to the only public residence in town and thanks to Everett’s influences signs on as the pianist in the saloon.
Seldom do you see star chemistry like that between Virgil and Everett, who are a bit like stars of Brokeback Mountain but stay well within the constraints of acceptable male bonding. While Everett wears the bigger star--and reads Ralph Waldo Emerson--Virgil has more schooling so the banter between the two about word pronunciation is alone more entertainment than the majority of the movies that flicker in and out of contemporary screens. And special salutes to the boots the two men wear, probably the first prize going to Virgil’s, his high-toppers being nineteenth century versions of what Errol Flynn wore when he dueled with Basil Rathbone back in Merry Olde England for Warner Bros.
Eventually our two lawmen stage a trial relying on the testimony of a young witness to the shooting at Bragg’s ranch but Bragg eventually escapes so it’s off to the mountains in search of the miscreants. And I’ll say no more except to mention that the resident President is Chester A. Arthur and his character actually comes into play.
“Appalossa” is beautifully filmed with a fine score and over the bar acting in a story with just enough twists and turns to resemble real life--even today.