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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Welcome to Hollywood’s Western

    I grew up watching Westerns. Nothing gives me more pleasure then watching the Duke, the prototypical man’s man, in classic Westerns, like “True Grit” or “The Alamo.” Although more politically correct, modern Westerns just don’t do it for me in the same way.

    Ed Harris’s “Appaloosa”, a film based off the novel by Robert B. Parker, is an example of a modern Western that has merits, but cannot really compare to the classics. The cinematography is good, the colors of the western landscape coming off of the screen really help viewers get into the movie. Ed Harris, who directed the movie and plays the role of the protagonist, Virgil Cole, looked very much the strong, stoic hero that we expect from the lead “cowboy.”

    However, the psychology of the character is much different from the cool confidence that John Wayne is known for. Virgil Cole does not back down in the face of danger, but he certainly weakens himself out of some misguided infatuation with the femme fatale, obnoxiously played by Ren’eacute;e Zellweger. In the end, Harris’s character could best be described as annoying, losing much of the “bad-ass”attitude he displays earlier in the film, and which more worthy cowboys are never without.

    Two actors managed to salvage the movie. Jeremy Irons, in his usual villainous role, fits the part of the lawbreaking, murderous rancher perfectly. Irons manages to scare an entire town into signing itself over to a new Marshall (Virgil Cole) for protection, escape from the hangman’s noose, get pardoned for the murder he was originally convicted for and re-ingratiates himself and takes control over that same town. All of this is done over the course of the movie in the style I would expect from classic Westerns.

    Viggo Mortensen manages to take up the slack for the pansy Virgil Cole. Mortensen plays Everett Hitch, the cool and intelligent sidekick to Harris, and who is probably the true focus of the film. Hitch saves the plot and the movie by extension, when he keeps Cole’s love interest faithful, feeds him the right words and fixes his other mistakes. If you combine Cole’s ruggedness and Hitch’s intelligence, you would get one semi-decent cowboy.

    The movie itself is a bit of a bore. The plot is interesting, but it also drags on unnecessarily. The story can be told with more intensity in about half the time. (The run-time of the movie is 114 minutes.)

    Where the movie seriously deviated from the classics was in its conceptions of good and evil. In the Wild West, where the rules are fuzzy and the law is what you make of it, the antihero is supposed to break all the rules to catch the “bad guy.” Virgil Cole bent the rules where it suited him, but refused to go beyond that. As a result, the bad guy got away every time.

    The point of this was to demonstrate that adherence to the law is the true good. Cole, who refused to break the law, is rewarded with a stable life and a beautiful woman. Mortensen, who ultimately broke the rules to save the town and bring a murderer to justice, is forced to continue his unsteady life on horseback.

    However, adherence to the law at all costs, is no virtue in the context of the Wild West. When the outlaws are smarter and outnumber the law enforcement officials, the officers have to be even more ruthless than the criminals, and relax their sense of morality to get the job done.

    In real life, in modern times, this is obviously not the case. I don’t see westerns to experience a world like my own. I want to see a world in which the hero will do anything it takes to take care of the problem, and not quibble on meaningless moral dilemmas like “right and wrong.” I don’t want to see characters keeping the peace with obvious villains or appease enemies. I see enough of this in the real world in modern day conflicts. When I watch a Western, I want to feel inspired to pick up a six-shooter and a ten-gallon hat and ride away on my Appaloosa horse, become a tough man of the land and fight gun battles with vicious criminals. Sadly, Appaloosa doesn’t do it for me. It is too realistic and its characters have too many of the wrong flaws to feel like a real western.

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