Apaloosa (2009)

Rated: R for some violence and language.
Length: 115 minutes
Grade: CDCD=C-
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $37 million (20 U.S., 7 Intl., 10 DVD)

Written by: Ed Harris and Robert Knott (First screenplay for either), based on the novel by Robert B. Parker
Directed by: Ed Harris (Pollock)
Starring: Um, Ed Harris? And Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, and Lance Henriksen.

When a small town’s marshal is killed by a local bad guy, the town hires two mercenaries to protect them. In the process, one falls for a woman, who becomes a liability as they try to bring the bad guy to justice.

Entertainment Value: C
This movie lied to me! Ed Harris, Viggo, Renee Z, and Jeremy Irons? I expected a masterpiece. And then, the first fifteen minutes were terrific! Seriously. But an hour later, I realized that I was having to force myself to keep watching it. I can’t decide what, precisely, went wrong here, but something definitely went wrong. I think, quite frankly, that it became boring. Perhaps realistic, but boring nonetheless. Somewhere along the line, Ed Harris didn’t quite learn the lessons Unforgiven had to teach about how to make a realistic and brilliant western, even if it doesn’t have a lot of action.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence D, Language D, Illegality DLots of drinkin’, pardner. Several implied sex scenes, and a couple of scenes with a man and a woman in bed, including one where she is partially naked. Language is remarkably strong, and would merit an R on its own if the movie didn’t already deserve it so heartily for the violence. It’s not just that there’s killin’, ma’am, it’s that there’s killin’ with lots of blood. That and several fairly brutal beatings.

Significant Content: C
In order to fight real evil, you have to be a little bit crazy and a lotta bit ruthless. There isn’t much real difference between being an outlaw and being a law man. Laws are often nothing more than a sham to give what is necessary the pretense of being what is authorized. The law can be avoided if you know the right people. Even a flawed romance can be a meaningful romance. Sometimes all you can do is kill a guy to make things right.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
I think this is Ed Harris trying to follow in the footsteps of Clint Eastwood. And even though the movie starts with a good basic idea of studying some odd characters, it seems to throw too much of their chaos at us to make enough sense of it. One theme here is the relationship between grammar and vocabulary and a sense of legitimacy. Unfortunately for Harris, 3:10 to Yuma pretty well addressed that already.

Discussion Questions:
~What do you think of Virgil’s tactics? What does this movie have to say about the war on terror?
~Why does Virgil want so badly to develop his vocabulary? What does it say about him that Everett is his sidekick but knows the words he wishes to learn?
~Why does Virgil love Allison? Why does Allison love Virgil? When Everett says that she will pursue whoever is the lead dog in the current environment, do you think his assessment is correct? Is this movie trying to say something about women?
~If you were the town leaders, would you have taken Virgil’s offer in exchange for giving him carte blanche to make laws as he wants? Did granting him this power wind up being good or bad for the town?
~Why do we believe in limited government? Is limited government actually a bad thing when you have really good people in power?
~What are the similarities and differences between Virgil, Everett, Bragg, and Ring? Do you agree with the implication that the main difference between criminals and cops is the steadiness of the pay?
~Is Virgil a little bit crazy? Why does he react so aggressively to the man at the bar? What does Everett mean when he says that the town hired Virgil Cole to be Virgil Cole?
~One of the ancient theories about how despots come to power is because people in desperate situations turn to them to solve their problems. Is this theory shown or refuted by this movie?
~What do you think of Everett’s decision in the end?
Overall Grade: C-
Seriously. It was great for 15 minutes and really mediocre for another hour and a half after that. Watch it with this warning, if at all.

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