A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this film is a classic Western -- full of gunfights, close-quarters shootings, and other violent acts. Although the violence is mostly bloodless, it's quite realistic: You clearly see its consequences in every action scene. There's also a complex depiction of the choices that a female character makes regarding her lovers that at least partially depicts the limited choices available to women in 1882. Characters also smoke, drink, swear, and talk about "whoring," and there's brief rear female nudity.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
In the territory of New Mexico in 1882, the town of Appaloosa is besieged by rogue rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), who protects his workers even when they break the law. After a rape-murder attracts the attention of the town sheriff, who refuses to let Bragg's men walk away from the crime, Bragg simply kills the lawman and his deputies. The town's leaders hire Virgil Cole (Ed Harris, who also directed) and his partner, Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortenson), to become the town's new lawmen and stop Bragg. For a while, the town of Appaloosa is peaceful -- so much so that Cole reaches out to the newly arrived Ms. French (Renee Zellweger), but Bragg soon chafes against the new order that Cole and Hitch are enforcing.
Is it any good?
APPALOOSA has a number of things to recommend it -- Harris is an able director, the ensemble cast is first rate, and the story is based on a novel by best-selling author Robert B. Parker. (Parker is perhaps best known for the Spenser private eye series.) But unlike revisionist modern Westerns such as Unforgiven and The Proposition, Appaloosa is a classic, old-fashioned, straightforward story -- good men and bad men, gunfights and stare-downs, long rides and short bursts of action.
That said, "straightforward" doesn't mean "simple"; there are some superbly acted moments in Appaloosa. As Bragg, Irons starts out as a grizzled lunatic, but as the storyline progresses, he becomes more civilized, more charming ... and more dangerous. Zellweger's newly arrived piano-playing mystery woman is prim and proper, but she's also got a fairly fluid sense of allegiance. Even the easy, gruff interplay between Cole and Hicks is full of shifts and unspoken truths, and Harris and Mortensen settle into playing two lifelong friends as if they were exactly that, while still holding the screen in their individual scenes. Like many classic Westerns, Appaloosa takes a hard look at what's gained -- and what's lost -- as the frontier becomes part of civilization and how the many people who shaped and settled the American West struggled to create a civilized community that had no more use for them. Beautifully shot, full of action, and far richer than it seems to be at first glance, Appaloosa is a welcome reminder of why Westerns matter on the big screen.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's central idea: What happens when lawbreakers become lawmakers? Is there a difference between state-sanctioned killing in the name of order and murder in the name of greed and expediency? Families can also discuss the enduring popularity of the Western genre. Are these movies a chance to re-discover America's past, or a chance to re-invent it through fiction?
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