Monday, October 6, 2008
I usually don’t use the term “Superb” to describe movies, since I generally much prefer to work on them than watch them, but I have to say that Appaloosa, starring Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen, is just that: Superb. My wife and I just got back from watching it this afternoon, and I was totally blown away by not only the skill of the director, cinematographer and the stars, but also the props, hair & makeup and costume people as well. Usually it’s in the Hair & Makeup department that things go south in period pieces, but they actually did a great job on this one. Even when background people may be just right, the Stars are usually seen in some horrid contemporary hair fashion that may look right to the modern viewer, but clashes with the period being done, and in 20 years will look downright silly. Not this time: it looks good.
Likewise the clothing. Even Renee Zellweger’s clothing is spot-on, down to the underwear (yeah, you get to see some of that, too). The men’s clothing is great, what with vests and ties everywhere. The boots were good two-piece boots of the period, and the spurs were the fine “California” rowel spurs of the day, not the clunky “Western Spurs” that are worn now-a-days. And the HATS! My God, they are GREAT! All sorts of hats of the period, but best of all is Viggo Mortensen’s hat, it is GREAT! I’m officially jealous of THAT hat.
Props did a fine job with the gunbelts, saddles, you name it, and the Armourer outdid himself. From Viggo’s 8-gauge double shotgun (them things are BIG, and his was indeed a bloody big shotgun!) to the fact that his carbine (1866 Winchester) and his pistol (1872 Colt “Open Top”) fire the same ammunition (.44 Henry Flat), thus making them very serviceable together. Ed Harris’ combination of a pair of 1873 Colt Single Action Army’s and a Winchester 1873 Short Rifle was nice too: again, they easily could be in the same caliber, since Colt brought out their SAA in .44 Winchester Center Fire (aka .44-40) in 1878, and the story takes place in 1882. Plenty of time for Harris’ character to pick those up, while Viggo Mortensen’s character would still be considered well armed. Heck, one guy even had a Spencer carbine! Little details like that make me all warm and fuzzy inside.
Other details were absolutely wonderful, for instance after one of the shoot-outs, which happens in the blink of an eye. Viggo says to Harris “That was fast”. Harris answers “Everybody could shoot!”. Most gunfights were that fast, none of this long, drawn-out Hollywood gunfight stuff, and this was true to life, at least when depicting professionals. A fair amount of lead flying, lots of blood, and not much time elapsing. Thank God Harris (the Director as well as Star, Writer and Producer) chose not to “Sam Peckinpaugh” us with morbid shots of slow-motion carnage. Fast and furious, then over.
The story itself was very well played out. Subdued, really. It’s a buddy story, with the girl who comes between them, but it’s not done the way one might expect. The two main characters of Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) are long-time partners. They don’t talk a lot, and don’t need to either. Lots of looks, a few words, and deep understanding of how the other man works is all there for the viewer to see. It’s the way films are SUPPOSED to be done, without a lot of talking. SHOW ME, don’t talk me to death, and this is exactly what Harris does in this film. He shows, doesn’t talk.
There is a lot to be said for this movie, and I really can’t think of a single bad thing to say about it, which for me is highly unusual to say the least. But I think that the very best thing I can say is that in the very last scene, with Everett standing in his “Shootist” stance, he looks straight out of Frederick Remington’s paintings, and is absolutely perfect in stance, clothing, weaponry, hair, you name it. On this, higher praise I cannot possibly give. He looked “Right”.