Straight shooting

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Appaloosa is at once new and old, a fresh Western that throws straight back to its predecessors instead of going with the current trend to toss a revisionist curveball. Generally, the direct approach works for cowriter, director and star Ed Harris. It's a sturdy, two-hour diversion, but it isn't as distinguished as it could be.

Intriguing but mostly unexplored is the relationship between Virgil Cole (Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), hired lawmen in the 1880s who ride into Appaloosa, New Mexico, to take a job ridding the town of murderous rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) and his gang. More than a second gun, thoughtful Hitch is Cole's voice when he needs a five-dollar word or an expression of apology.

When Cole takes up with Allie (Renee Zellweger), the new widow in town, Harris leaves lying an interesting parallel - aside from the badge, he's the same as the murderer he's after, and under a veneer of propriety, she's no different than the paid companion Hitch visits. Allie's screen time is limited to romantic machinations, which in Zellweger's hands become gratingly artificial.

With so much left unsaid, emotional investment is elusive and there's a short supply of visceral tension in the climactic gunfights.

Only Mortensen connects with the viewer, and he owns every scene he's in, but this seems less a flaw on Harris' part and more an act of generosity.