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Appaloosa is a 2008 American Western film based on the 2005 novel of the same name by crime writer Robert B. Parker. The film was directed by Ed Harris and co-written by Harris and Robert Knott. Appaloosa stars Harris alongside Viggo Mortensen. The film premiered in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, was released in select cities on September 19, 2008 and expanded into wide-release on October 3, 2008.

The movie shares some narrative similarities with the 1959 Western Warlock, directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn and Richard Widmark. There is also a 1966 Western named The Appaloosa which stars Marlon Brando, butthe two films are unrelated.


The small western town of Appaloosa is being terrorized by local rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), who killed the marshal and a deputy in cold blood. The town decides to hire lawman Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and his deputy Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), to protect the town. Complete control is given to Cole and Hitch, who begin to kill any of Bragg's men who are in the town. Cole meets a new arrival to the town, Allie French (Renée Zellweger), and starts a relationship with her. Eventually one of Bragg's men tells Cole and Hitch he will testify that Bragg killed the Marshall. Bragg is tried and found guilty. On route to being executed, Bragg is rescued by Ring and Mackie Shelton (Lance Henriksen and Adam Nelson), who also capture Allie as insurance.

Cole and Hitch catch up with Bragg, Allie, Ring, and Mackie, and after a brief fight with Indians, turn Bragg in to the sheriff at the nearest town. But the sheriff is actually Ring and Mackie's cousin, Russel. The Sheltons free Bragg, and challenge Cole and Hitch to a gunfight. Cole and Hitch are both wounded, but are able to kill Ring, Mackie, and Russel, although Bragg escapes. Cole, Hitch, and Allie head back to Appaloosa.

Some time later, Bragg is granted a full pardon by President Chester A. Arthur and returns to Appaloosa in an attempt to publicly reform himself. He buys the hotel and ingratiates himself with the locals, though Virgil and Everett suspect he is using his claims of a silver strike to cover up illegal gains. Hitch also discovers that Bragg is in a relationship with Allie. Unable to arrest Bragg, and wanting Allie to be with Cole, Hitch challenges Bragg to a duel and kills him in front of Virgil. Everett leaves town, with parting words hoping that Virgil can find happiness with Allie.


Bob Harris, Ed Harris's father, has a small role as Judge Callison.


Appaloosa marks Ed Harris's second outing as director, following the 2000 biopic Pollock, which he also starred in; Harris co-wrote and co-produced Appaloosa with Robert Knott. The budget for Appaloosa was $20 million and filming took place from October 1, 2007 to November 24, 2007 around Albuquerque and Santa Femarker, New Mexicomarker and Austinmarker, Texasmarker. Harris was drawn to Robert B. Parker's bestselling novel because it was constructed like a classic Western, but included crime themes still relevant to contemporary society. He purchased the rights to the novel and hired Parker to adapt his book into a screenplay. Harris, who also stars as Virgil Cole, wanted to make the film in the old-fashioned style of such films as 3:10 to Yuma, My Darling Clementine and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, rather than a revisionist approach. Harris also acknowledged the challenge of making a successful Western movie, saying, "You can count on one hand, or maybe half a hand, the number of Westerns that were box office successes in the recent past." Production of Appaloosa slowed when New Line Cinema and producers became concerned with the box office prospects of a Western during a season with such anticipated blockbusters as The Dark Knight. Diane Lane originally signed on to play Allie French, but left the project when the film stalled. The movie got back on track due to the success of the Deadwood series on HBO and the film remake of 3:10 to Yuma. Renée Zellweger was signed to replace Lane.

Harris enjoyed working with Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence and had him in mind for the part of Everett Hitch. While publicizing A History of Violence at the Toronto Film Festivalmarker, Harris handed Mortensen a copy of the novel and asked him to read it and consider playing the part. Harris said it was "a totally awkward proposition, handing another actor a book like that," but Mortensen agreed to take the part after responding well to the character and the relationship dynamic between the two characters. Harris said he wanted to make the film because he was drawn to the "unspoken comradeship" of Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. "Though they've been hanging out for years, they're not too intimate, but they know each other. Aside from in sports, or being a cop, I can't think of any other situation where a friendship like that is called for." Mortensen felt similarly, saying, "I like to ride horses, and I like Westerns, but there are a lot of bad ones. What set this one apart is just how the characters are a little more guarded." Mortensen studied Frederic Remington drawings and other images of the American Old West to get into character and master the proper way to stand during a gunfight.

The DVD includes a number of bonus extra featurettes, including "Dean Semler's Return to the Western." Although cinematographer Semler has been a pioneer in shooting digital movies, he was glad for this special opportunity to shoot a traditional old-fashioned Western using classic film stock technology.


Early reviews of Appaloosa from the 2008 Toronto International Film Festivalmarker were lukewarm. Brad Frenette of the National Post said "the film feels double its 114-minute running time, but Appaloosa redeems itself through unexpected moments of levity, Harris's steady direction and the god amongst men, Lance Henriksen." Frenette also said Renee Zellweger is "mostly a bust" and Viggo Mortensen "oozes cool." Popjournalism reviewer Sarah Gopaul said Harris and Mortensen spend too much time talking and discussing their feelings, which she said made the film too light for the gritty Western genre. Gopaul said Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen delivered decent performances and that Renee Zellweger's character has more depth than the traditional romantic interest in a Western. The New Yorker’s David Denby called it “a well-made, satisfying, traditionalist Western with some odd quirks and turns.”

On Rotten Tomatoes, Appaloosa is currently rated at 76% on the Tomatometer, based on 149 reviews.

The film appeared on some critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008. Ray Bennett of The Hollywood Reporter named it the 8th best film of 2008, and Mike Russell of The Oregonian named it the 10th best film of 2008.


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