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'Appaloosa' Pits Good Guys Versus Bad Guys

It's boots and saddles, 10-gallon hats and six-shooters, and good guys versus bad guys in a gritty and authentic western drama co-written and directed by and starring Ed Harris. Alan Silverman has this look at Appaloosa.

Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch are men of few words who never shy away from a fight. Combat veterans of the American Civil War Between The States, they travel the unruly western frontier in the late 1800's as lawmen-for-hire. That's what brings them to the dusty town of "Appaloosa."

An arrogant rancher named Bragg and his rowdy gang have been running roughshod through the town; but now they have to deal with Marshall Cole and his deputy Hitch.

Needless to say, there will be a confrontation before the movie is over ...and there's also a woman who enters their lives and complicates the relationships.

Appaloosa, adapted from the novel by Robert B. Parker, crackles with moments familiar to fans of western movies; but director, co-writer and star Ed Harris says it is also a realistic portrayal of life in the Wild West.

"One of my intentions as a director was to try not only to be authentic to the period, but to be authentic to genre in terms of its classicism," Harris explains.

Oscar-winner Harris says his character, Marshall Virgil Cole, is an archetype, but rooted in a reality that can still be found today.

"I think Cole really sees himself as a lawman - as a man who upholds the law," Harris says. "Yes, he makes some of his own laws, but there is still a moral code that he is driven by that he tries to live by. I think that's the thing that gives him purpose in life."

Viggo Mortensen, who squared off against Ed Harris in the acclaimed 2005 drama A History of Violence, plays Cole's loyal deputy Hitch.

"I understood that they had been friends so long and had worked so well together that there was so much trust," Mortensen says. " I felt that the reason is stated in the movie ...that they had been friends so long and had such a successful law enforcement business was because I mind my own business and he minds his business and we allow each other to do that."

That friendship is put to the test when a young widow named Allison French comes to town. She and the Marshall become lovers, but it's also clear that there's an attraction to deputy Hitch. Oscar-winner Renee Zelwegger plays Allison and says because the character arrives with no real history (where did she come from? Why did she leave?), like all the relationships in Appaloosa, she is more complex than she first appears.

"I think she is really complicated because her options are so limited that she has to resort to things that you and I would never consider in terms of how we would define the list of things you do to take care of yourself," notes Zelwegger. "And in terms of her dynamic with the gentlemen, one of the things I always loved about it was that I felt you and I would look at relationships much more differently. She is creating a family and a safe haven for herself between these two men. Very complicated."

Appaloosa also features yet another Academy Award-winner, Jeremy Irons, as the unscrupulous rancher Randall Bragg. The screenplay is co-written by Robert Knott. The film was shot on location in the American southwest - mainly New Mexico - and the musical score is by Jeff Beal.