How were we with Ed Harris’s Pollock? I thought his directorial debut was an emotionally astute examination of the volatile abstract artist – though Martin Scorsese covered that ground better and more tersely in "Life Lessons" (his segment of the hit-miss-hit omnibus New York Stories). I haven’t felt compelled to revisit Harris’s film since its theatrical release, but it was solid and, most importantly, individual enough to suggest that he might be worth something as a director.
Actors-turned-directors tend to respond well to the western, so maybe Appaloosa is the picture that will draw out Harris’s behind-the-camera gifts. The film, based on a novel by Robert B. Parker, concerns "a pair of friends hired to protect a lawless town suffering at the hands of a renegade rancher". So it’s The Magnificent Two. Oh, but an attractive widow shows up and complicates things between the friends, meaning it’s got a touch of the Deadwood to it (to cite a recent variation on this twist).
Harris and Viggo Mortensen will reunite after their A History of Violence triumph, so that’s good things; however, the once-dependable-but-increasingly-erratic Renee Zellweger has been tapped to costar as the widow who mucks up the friends’ relationship. I know standards were lower back then, but are there enough hot meals between now and the start of principal photography to make Zellweger fetching again? Even for a hard-up hired gun?
I hate to make an issue out of Zellweger’s frame (do you, really?), since she bravely packed on some pounds to do Bridget Jones twice – and, for whatever reason, the weight didn’t photograph as well the second time out (it didn’t help that the movie sucked, too). But the undeniably talented actress has been off her game since Peyton Reed’s woefully underrated Down with Love. If Harris can… (you’re such a dick, Jeremy) round her back into form, then I’m all for this formulaic-sounding western. Actually, given Harris’s penchant for integrity, I’m expecting Appaloosa to be an instant classic if only as a corrective to his involvement in National Treasure: Leaflet of Evil.
New Line is set to distribute this offering from Groundswell Productions in ’08. Principal is scheduled to begin on October 1st.