New reviews – ‘Appaloosa’ and ‘A Girl Cut in Two’

Appaloosa (dir: Ed Harris)

Ed Harris directs this adaptation of Robert Parker’s western novel, an old-fashioned western with some modern ideas about relationships. But for all the romance, it’s ultimately a buddy film, a two-hander between the tough leader (Ed Harris) and the loyal best friend and support (Viggo Mortensen), a team of lawmen who hire themselves out to troubled towns that need a firm hand to clean up the lawlessness. “What do you allow, Everett?” asks Virgil (Harris) when the town elders of Appaloosa, a desert town at the mercy of rancher Jeremy Irons and his scruffy crew, offer him the position of town marshal. “It’s what we do,” Everett (Mortensen) responds. Nothing more need be said. They take up their posts in the town of Appaloosa, Virgil at point, Everett quietly taking up a strategic position as back-up.

Everett (Viggo Mortensen) and Virgil (Ed Harris) ride into Appaloosa
Everett (Viggo Mortensen) and Virgil (Ed Harris) ride into Appaloosa

Virgil is a classic Western loner type, unfazed by violence and unflinching in the face of superior numbers, but downright flustered around a pretty woman. Allison (Renée Zellweger) steps off the train all schoolmarmish, but she’s no blushing innocent. She shows unsentimental survival skills when she’s taken hostage in a showdown with the rancher. If Virgil judges her for it, the film is more understanding.

Harris the director isn’t the least bit troubled by Virgil’s legally dubious methods. There’s not much moral nuance or little character dimension, but that fits the genre just fine. “Appaloosa” is a well-told, thoroughly enjoyable and refreshingly direct buddy Western, and that’s more than enough.

Harris takes his time telling the tale and embracing the romance of friendship forged on the trail and under fire. The relationship between Virgil and Allison has a refreshing honesty as they stumble and compromise and come to an adult understanding. The unspoken bond between the two men is the real love story.

Read the complete review here.

A Girl Cut in Two (dir: Claude Chabrol)

The old master delivers a murder and a sensational scandal, which curiously reworks the real-life turn-of-the-century Sanford White-Harry Thaw case dramatized in previous films (most notably “Ragtime”). But his direction is intimate and observational, and his story more about the psychological unease radiated by the possessive lovers and the emotional price paid by Gabrielle.

Read the complete review here.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I’m a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I’ve written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View.

I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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