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When two gunmen, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, arrive in Appaloosa they find a small, dusty and lawless town suffering at the hands of renegade rancher Randall Bragg. Bragg has not only taken supplies, horses, and women for his own, but also has left the city marshal and a deputy for dead. In Bragg they find an unusually wily adversary who raises the stakes by playing with emotions. It is now up to Cole and Hitch to stand against the actions of the renegade rancher, which have already taken their toll on the town.
For more about Appaloosa and the Appaloosa Blu-ray release, see Appaloosa Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on January 26, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, Timothy Spall, Lance Henriksen
Director: Ed Harris
» See full cast & crew
Appaloosa Blu-ray Review
Ed Harris' meandering Western meanders onto Blu-ray...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, January 26, 2009
Over the last three decades, Ed Harris has established an impressive career that's led to four Oscar nominations, a slew of awards from various ceremonies, and powerful performances in films like The Truman Show, Apollo 13, The Hours, and Pollock (just to name a few). Even so, I always get nervous when I sit down to watch a film helmed by one of my favorite actors... particularly when that actor has taken on the roles of writer, director, and leading man. Will he be as talented behind the camera as he is in front of it? Can he tell a story with his pen as well as with his performance? Will I have to endure a well-acted but underdeveloped mess for the next two hours of my life?
Appaloosa finds Ed Harris behind the scenes as writer and director, as well as on the screen as Virgil Cole, a late 19th century lawman-for-hire whose services are acquired to defend a small town from a renegade rancher named Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons). As is always the case, Cole is accompanied by his longtime friend and deputy, Everett Hitch (the indelibly talented Viggo Mortensen), a humble gunslinger whose loyalty knows no bounds. Upon arriving in Appaloosa, the pair focus their efforts on Bragg's henchmen and begin to reestablish a sense of law and order in the area. When Bragg is arrested, the town uneasily returns to its normal routines. However, the arrival of an outspoken woman named Allison French (Renee Zellweger) leaves Virgil questioning his chosen profession and wondering if it's time to hang up his guns. As Bragg works to worm his way out of his sentence, Virgil and Everett have to decide whether to keep the peace or leave their responsibilities to another generation of lawmen.
Based on the 2005 novel of the same name by author Robert B. Parker, Appaloosa matches its source material's dry tone, loose plotting, and laconic dialogue. Both Virgil and Everett are disarmingly soft-spoken -- one stumbles over his words and the other chooses them so carefully that I began to wonder if he would ever speak his mind. It's a refreshing change of pace that instantly makes each man feel more authentic than the quick-witted, hard-stepping gunfighters that populate the Western genre. It also lends itself to creating a believable bond between the two lead actors. Harris and Mortensen use breezy banter, unexpected humor, and matter-of-fact statements to craft their on-screen friendship into an incredibly convincing relationship. Their loyalty to each other is genuine, their exchanges are filled with platonic affection, and their respect for each other is readily apparent. It's this unwavering brotherly love that holds the entire film together... even when its story limps along and loses focus.
If I were reading Appaloosa, I'm sure I would enjoy its lackadaisical narrative and tangential musings -- after all, a novel is the perfect place to unspool characters and allow a story to wind its way toward the inevitable. However, employed in a cinematic production of this scale, such meandering efforts are unnerving and tiresome. Harris' adaptation feels more like an episodic television series than a cohesive feature film. At first, Bragg is the identifiable source of conflict, but by the end of the first act, he's been relegated to bit player while Virgil falls in love with Allison, builds a house, chats at length with Everett about love, and attends to other menial tasks. Granted, these scenes flesh out the main characters, but Bragg is simply trotted out when the story needs momentum and tucked away as soon as the director wants to focus on Virgil and Everett's everyday lives. More troubling is the climax, which sputters out to illogical ends and never offers a solid closer. Don't get me wrong, I understand exactly what Harris was trying to do in replicating the novel's slowburn developments, but it just doesn't translate to film as well as it could have.
Appaloosa is an at-times stirring character study that digs into friendship, loyalty, and brotherhood, but fails to tell a more engaging story or resonate as intensely as other notable Westerns on the market like 3:10 to Yuma, The Proposition, and the single greatest modern Western I've had the pleasure to watch, Unforgiven. Fans of Harris and Mortensen will find a pair of powerful performances but not much else. Give this one a rent and see if you feel the same.
Appaloosa Blu-ray, Video Quality
The first thing you'll notice about Appaloosa's 1080p/VC-1 transfer is that it's slightly softer than most modern Blu-ray transfers -- its textures aren't as crisp, fabric and skin are a bit dull, and fine foreground details aren't as refined (even with the occasional help of some rather intrusive edge enhancement). If I didn't know any better, I would assume I was watching a remastered catalog classic. Even so, it all looks considerably sharper than the standard DVD edition and still has a lot to offer fans of the film. Closeups in particular look quite good, showing every wrinkle in Harris' face and every terse line around Zellweger's lips. Better still, the transfer's warm, rich palette evokes the Westerns of old while its deep blacks and natural contrast give the image the expected depth and dimensionality of a recent production. Furthermore, fleshtones are natural and delineation is spot on... regardless of the strength of the accompanying light source. The starkest shadows in the hottest light fail to conceal facial expressions, obscure detail, or ruin the overall quality of the picture. As it stands, even scenes shot at night look fantastic and rarely suffer from any visibility issues.
Noise has been kept to a minimum and, aside from some minor banding in the bright skies, there isn't a hint of artifacting, crush, or aliasing to be found. I suspect the aforementioned softness should be attributed to the film's original print, but Warner's habitual use of DNR shouldn't be ignored. Unfortunately, the definition of the overall image makes it tough to tell whether the reduced clarity is the result of the film's source or overzealous post processing. Either way, Appaloosa doesn't deliver the high-def polish I had hoped for. I was expecting to be blown away by Harris' vistas and Semler's cinematography, but instead had to settle for an above average transfer that could have been a reference quality standout.
Appaloosa Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Appaloosa includes a subdued but effective Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track that captures the subtle sense of solitude and seclusion Harris has massaged into each and every scene. The track does a great job of capitalizing on the rear speakers, melding believable environmental ambience with Semler's gorgeous cinematography and pairing convincing interior acoustics with the spacious saloons and cramped hotel rooms featured in the film. Moreover, robust low-end support and sharp dynamics allow explosive gunfire to pierce the soundscape, surprising the listener with its sudden power as much as it surprises the on-screen gunmen with its sudden appearance. In fact, it's extremely easy to immerse oneself in the resultant soundfield. Pans are smooth and transparent, directionality is precise, and the high-end wheen of whizzing bullets is light and stable. More importantly, dialogue is crisp, clear, and nicely prioritized -- even under heavy fire, Virgil's mumbled exclamations and Everett's softest whispers are perfectly intelligible.
The Blu-ray edition of Appaloosa may not revel in aggressive sonics like other notable high-def Westerns, but its naturalistic qualities and nuanced soundfield nevertheless allow this one to emerge as an impressive lossless effort from Warner Brothers.
Appaloosa Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Appaloosa arrives on Blu-ray with all of the special features that appear on its DVD counterpart. Sadly, its behind-the-scenes material is short and shallow, the majority of its video content is presented in standard definition, and I wasn't blown away by anything it had to offer.
Appaloosa Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Appaloosa is a decent film filled with excellent performances that never quite finds its footing. The Blu-ray edition is equally hit-or-miss. While it boasts a nuanced and convincing Dolby TrueHD surround track, it includes a soft transfer and a disappointing collection of special features. Fans will find it all to be a significant improvement over the DVD, but newcomers should definitely watch the film before committing any cash to a purchase.
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Appaloosa Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - January 13 - January 13, 2009
After an exciting CES 2009 - drooling over the latest Blu-ray hardware and software advancements - we are back to reality: Blu-ray releases. The latest sales data indicates that for the week following Christmas, Blu-ray took a record 16% of the home media disc ...
• Appaloosa Announced for Blu-ray - December 2, 2008
New Line Home Entertainment in conjunction with Warner Home Video have announced that they will bring the Ed Harris film 'Appaloosa' to Blu-ray on January 13th, day-and-date with the DVD release. Coming on a BD-25, video will be presented in 2.40:1 1080p VC-1 accompanied ...
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