If you love Westerns, Appaloosa will thrill you. The new film has all the essentials of the genre, but with a scrutiny for its characters rarely seen these days.
The generic essentials: the gunslinger and his sidekick, the beautiful girl who rarely charges for sex, the murderous ranch owner and his henchmen who have taken over the town by terror, a train robbery, a band of rogue Indians, and most important of all, the gunfight on main street in the last scene to decide it all.
The characters: The gunslinger (played by Ed Harris) and his sidekick (played by Viggo Mortensen) make a team like we haven't seen before. Harris plays the "go ahead, make my day" gunman elected by the terrorized town officials to become their marshall. However, he's no clone of Clint Eastwood. His partner of many years, carries an 8 gauge, double-barrel shotgun and never misses. They seem an unbeatable pair in gunplay until...well, you'll find out when. Through their curt conversations, we get to know them well. Whenever the gunslinger pauses, searching for a long word, his partner always seems to know what he's thinking and fills it in. The repetition of this not only becomes funny, but alludes to how well they know each other.
But don't let the appearance of a little humor now and then delude you to into thinking this is a comedy or parody of the Western movie. The makers have used all of Hollywood's finest skills and techniques to produce the best Western you've seen in a long time. The scenery, the lighting, the costumes, the story, and the acting go over the top. I saw this on a huge digital screen in a new AMC theater and the effort to travel there was worth the effort. If you haven't been to one of these theaters, you MUST go. The seats, the sound, the air conditioning, and the access will addict you. They even have no-touch restrooms: the door is replaced by a maze, the water and soap are motion activated, and the towels come out when a genie thinks you're ready.
Most modern movies don't reveal anything about the characters except their bodies, and replace a recognizable plot with explosions in hundreds of visual bytes lasting less than one second. The photography in Appaloosa demands your attention and affords plenty of time to enjoy it.
Cutting to the chase, since the invention of theater by the Greeks, the most important element in drama relies on portraying a change in the characters. We can delve into the characters in Appaloosa, and the intimacy lets us see a classic metamorphosis. And as the Greeks showed their audiences again and again, strong males usually need to shed some of their hubris. Since the two principals in this film are inseparable partners, we can watch their relationship change as well. The movie entertains without a crumb of triteness and with heaps of nostalgia.
I've never picked an Oscar winner in my life, but I love movies and this film gets my Statue for 2008.