New Line // 2008 // 115 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 22nd, 2009
Feelings get you killed.
Writer/director/star Ed Harris (A History of Violence) convinces a bunch of A-list pals to join him in making a Western.
Virgil Cole (Harris) and his partner Hitch (Viggo Mortensen, Hidalgo) have carved out a living as peacemakers in the brutal Old West, and their latest job pits them against a blood-thirsty rancher (Jeremy Irons) over control of the small town of Appaloosa. Things go according to plan and the town is spared from wanton violence, until an unforeseen variable shows up: Ali (Renee Zelwegger, Cold Mountain), a woman who catches Virgil's eye, even though she has an uncontrollable urge to f*ck anything that has a pulse.
I'm all for the Western making a comeback and Appaloosa is a worthy entry, joining 3:10 to Yuma and Seraphim Falls as the latest batch of gun-slinging cinema to re-enter pop culture consciousness. However, viewers be advised: Ed Harris' Western isn't an action-fest; it's a character-driven story that places its focus on the two lead characters, their friendship, the complications of adding a third (female) component, and the ultimate cost of justice.
That all sounds hoity-toity, but Appaloosa is still highly effective in that gritty, black-and-white, when men were men, kind of way. Virgil and Hitch are interesting characters, living by a code they share, and their friendship proves to be a fertile landscape. How they react to danger, confront overwhelming odds, settle blood feuds, handle the tricky machinations of a tricky woman, and even sit on a porch and talk with as few words as possible is compelling, and in lesser hands (both in front of and behind the camera) may not have worked as well.
Good movie; great Blu-ray. The high-definition transfer is glorious. Transmitted in beautiful 2.40:1 widescreen, the video treatment ranks high on my list of favorites. In fact, I'm going to go ahead and slap a perfect score on it. The clarity is breathtaking, with the rich color scheme of the period just popping out from the TV. The setting is worn and sand-blasted, but there are plenty of other visual treats to enjoy, from Virgil and Hitch's earthy outfits to Ali's bright ensembles. Pulling back, the picture continues to impress, as cinematographer Dean Semler's eye for expansive Western shots brim with detail. Simply fantastic HD work.
On the sound end, the TrueHD 5.1 mix is extremely crisp. Surrounds are well-mapped, offering an engrossing experience. The action is light, so the mayhem that these uncompressed audio mixes live off of is limited, but when the inevitable gunfights do get rolling, the cleanness of the mix is noticeable; gunshots pound and Jeff Beal's score will fill your room.
Commentary with Ed Harris and co-writer Robert Knott
It's dominated by Harris. He's low-key throughout, but he's honest too and offers interesting insights into the filmmaking process.
Harris gives optional commentary as to why they were cut and, frankly it's not surprising. They are in HD, though.
Four of them. Brief but well-done, tackling the characters ("Bringing the Characters of Appaloosa to Life"), the production design ("Historic Accuracy of Appaloosa"), the location shoot ("The Town of Appaloosa"), and the cinematographer ("Dean Semler's Return to the Western").
It may not satiate the action-mongers, but Ed Harris's character-centric Western is a winner. The A/V specs of the Blu-ray are top-shelf.
Not Guilty. And a gold sheriff's star for the powerful good visual
Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Cinema Verdict Review