Harris lays down the law in “Appaloosa”

AppaloosaEd Harris(NEW LINE CINEMA)3.5 StarsEd Harris directs, produces, and stars in “Appaloosa,” the latest addition to the canon of American Western films. Although the Western is a signature genre of modern film?making, for the last 15 years it has been hung out to dry in the desert.The effective “Appaloosa,” as well as the recent “3:10 to Yuma,” serve to remind us of the potency that this latent genre can deliver. All the necessary elements characteristic of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne’s classic films are present. The righteous lawmen versus the antagonist with a small army of henchmen form the basis of the plot, accompanied by a romantic interest. Within this traditional plot archetype, the focus is honed in on the relationship between the dual protagonists played by Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris, which add a nice human dynamic to the film. Although it is a bit formulaic, the film does justice to this tried and true method, and delivers a quality narrative, aided by the buddy element and some surprising but subdued comic relief. Following Eastwood’s classic “Unforgiven” in 1992, the film industry has been nearly devoid of any significant or quality Western films. Along with “Yuma,” this film marks a potential come?back for the genre as a whole. What made Eastwood return to a dusty, outdated and deserted film form? Breathing new life into the classic storyline, Eastwood’s Western has a fresh take on the recycled plot. The Old West, Eastwood confirms, is an open canvas for any number of potent dramatic stories. The tenor of the times, both socially and legally, also allows for compelling moral decisions, regardless of any legality. This film actually makes a point of showing just how easily laws could be manipulated, either for righteous or malicious purposes.The vastness of the setting, as well as the lack of concrete historical documentation, allows for the unlimited creation and interpretation of characters and more localized settings. Uninhibited and flexible, the narrative construction does not bend to historicity. This narrative freedom is its greatest strength. “Appaloosa” definitely doesn’t pack quite the same punch as “3:10 to Yuma,” nor is it fully comparable with some of the classics. It is, however, a decent enough film that hopefully will not be distinguished for its novelty factor as a rare Western. Hopefully, it will be remembered as the first of many reinventions of a classic, dying genre.