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Appaloosa

Two good guys take on one bad guy in the Old West

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In recent decades, the formula of the classic Western -- good guys in white, bad guys in black -- has blurred into variously shaded gray characters. But in Ed Harris' film, there is no doubt that his marshal-for-hire Virgil Cole (Harris) and partner Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) are the good guys battling to free the town of Appaloosa from the ruddy-faced, pure-evil rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons). Like most classic Westerns, this is a story about doing the right thing for somebody else, and Cole becomes the center of a love triangle between a mysterious newcomer (Renee Zellwegger) and Hitch, the man who reveres him. The story unfolds leisurely, with just enough action to keep viewers engaged, but it's the performances that help make the film great. Harris plays it cool and even; Zellwegger, while outclassed, holds her own; and Irons is fantastic in the opening scene. The show stealer, though, is Mortensen, with a low-key performance that builds in edginess toward the somewhat surprising climax.

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