I’m a sucker for a good western. There’s something about the slow southern drawl, the sweeping desert beauty, the tough guys on horses, and the intensity of a good showdown that I find so engaging.
Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch are two gunman who come to the town of Appaloosa to lay down order and reign in the terrible Randall Bragg who murdered the sheriff and instills terror upon the town. The two embark on lawfully bringing Bragg down, but hit a few snags along the way including a mysterious woman named Allie French. Even though Parker’s novel was written in 2005, it may as well have been written in the early 20th century in the era of silent films and John Ford westerns. Its slow and steady pace is perfectly suited for the screen and offers a visual style and well developed characters with smart dialogue. This book is a great read and a perfect western film all in one.
Ed Harris, who produced, co-wrote, directed and starred in the film, brings this story to life with an amazing cast and a near direct adaptation of the book. Nearly every line of dialogue comes from the pages of Parker’s novel and every action is precise to the word. Often such a direct adaptation does not result in a good film, but as westerns tend to have a slow pace about them, it translates well. It goes without saying the Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, and Jeremy Irons turn in fantastic performances and even Renée Zellweger, who I find to be hit or miss, easily transforms into the needy, backstabbing Allie. The pacing is slow at times, and Harris does fall victim to an adaptation cliché with Everett’s unnecessary narration at the beginning and end of the film. Also, there is a stumble in the development of the relationship between Virgil and Allie when she is teasing him about his past and Virgil gets upset and beats up a belligerent drunk in the bar. This scene doesn’t play as well as it does in the book and instead makes Virgil out to be an angry man with random bursts of violence, which is not the case. However, the film preserves the source material and the actors bring a great, dry comedy to the film that is not as apparent in the novel and truly brings the characters to life.
Not a whole lot- the first time Virgil and Everett met, the crime that Bragg’s men commit upon arriving at Appaloosa (it’s mentioned by the sheriff Jack Bell in the first scene of the film), and some minor scenes between Virgil and Everett along the way. Most notably missing is the prostitute Katie’s wisdom and relationship with Everett. She gets but three decent scenes in the film, though it feels like there was once more that may have ended up on the cutting room floor. In the book, she helps Everett to understand Allie’s manipulative ways and develops a sweet relationship in which he is considered more than just a client to her, but in the movie she is nothing but a glorified companion. She’s not even mentioned by name, though Everett does have a touching scene with her just before the final showdown.
Harris’ adaptation is so precise that hardly a single detail has changed. The largest one is still rather insignificant where Whittfield is one of Bragg’s man who witnessed the murder and turns against him to testify, while in the book he is a deputy of Appaloosa who ran away once Jack Bell is shot and returns to testify against Bragg. Also, Russell, the Shelton’s cousin, does not show up until they arrive at Beauville, while in the book he’s with them throughout the encounter with the Indians.
It would have been easy for Harris to change the story to involve more action, more sex, and all in all make it a more acceptable Hollywood film, but he does not. This is a very respectable, direct adaptation that preserves its engaging story and transforms it into an instantly classic western.