As lovers of the Old West, we are truly fortunate to have another Western film release so close on the heels of “Broken Trail” and “3:10 to Yuma”. Yay! I’d only recently heard of the movie–right here on P & P as a matter of fact!–so you can imagine my curiosity to learn more about it. The film is just now being shown in theaters, and I found it interesting how “Appaloosa” came about.
If you thought the story is about a horse–nope! You’re wrong. Appaloosa is a tiny town needing protection and justice against a local rancher who’s been roughing up the place. The community decides to hire a couple of gunmen who are best friends to help them out by stepping in as the law.
The movie is based on the novel of the same name, written by Robert Parker. Actor-director Ed Harris read the book while in Ireland back in 2005. By the time he’d read 35 pages, he was so taken with the story, he had a fervent desire to both direct and act in it. He immediately called his agent to acquire film rights, then later met with Robert Parker to discuss the project. Not surprisingly, Parker was honored and impressed that a man of Ed Harris’ caliber wanted to adapt his book for the screen.
Every writer’s dream, eh?
From the get-go, Harris insisted on staying as close to Parker’s story line as possible, and the screenplay was written as such. The two main characters, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, gave the story its depth and meaning. If you’re looking for a movie busting with special effects and non-stop action, you won’t find it in Appaloosa. Harris falls back on the westerns we remember by using a less hurried pace and more focus on the characters.
Ed Harris admits the screenplay was a tough sell since few westerns are made these days and don’t fare as well overseas. Today’s actors, in their 20s and 30s, never cut their eye teeth on westerns, either, as the previous generation had. These factors, along with a mega-budget of $20 million, had production companies dragging their feet.
Eventually, however, Ed Harris wrestled financing and film distribution into place and turned his attentions to casting. With Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch the crucial thrust of the story, Harris knew he needed a strong presence to work beside him. He’d taken on the role of Cole–the first person he thought of for Hitch? His ol’ buddy, Viggo Mortensen. Viggo agreed to do the project, but his tight schedule pushed Harris’ project back until Viggo could squeeze some time in to start shooting.
Next, Harris set out to woo Renee Zellweger to play the part of Allie, a woman of questionable character and indiscretions who feels she must align herself with the most powerful man to survive. Renee fell in love with the part and signed on.
Intense research into the period of the 1880s compelled Ed Harris to choose a villain who was less a thug but more like the thousands of immigrants pouring into this country at the time. Jeremy Irons, a British actor, fit the image Harris created, and with that, his cast was complete.
Last October, near Austin, Texas, filming began, eventually moving to Ford Ranch outside of Santa Fe. I found it interesting that the same set was used for Russell Crowe’s “3:10 to Yuma”, completely transformed, of course, into the town of Appaloosa.
A well-regarded cinematographer highlighted the landscape and its expansive beauty, key in giving the film a strong Western look and feel. Both Viggo Mortensen and Renee Zellweger praise Ed Harris for keeping the film slower, simpler, to really ‘see’ the characters, the landscape, and of course, Appaloosa itself.
“I just tried to cut to the chase and articulate the characters and their relationships and keep the action moving,” Harris says. “Hopefully, it’s an entertaining adventure.”
Indeed! I can hardly wait to see another Western on the full screen!
How about you? Have you seen Appaloosa yet? Will you be going?
What kind of non-western movies do you prefer? Do you like the high-tech special effects? Lots of action and violence? Or are you more into tear-jerking chick-flicks?
I’ll add that Titanic is probably my favorite movie of all I’ve seen, but I’ve seen Wizard of Oz the most times in my life. The biggest tear-jerker had to be Love Story with Ryan O’Neal.
What’s your favorite movie ever?