It's a scene that replays the second time as well as you remember the first. Announced by the whistle of the noonday train, the comely St. Louis widow, Mrs. Allison French (Ren (c)e Zellweger), unexpectedly alights in the town of Appaloosa, New Mexico Territory, 1882. Gliding through the incessant wind and dust, she crosses the broad main street, makes her way into the caf (c). From his horse Deputy Marshall Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) watches this, follows her with his eyes and his whole torso, cat-like, cranes his neck, almost forgets himself. Even his horse pricks its ears and prances, tightly reined. Heightening all this tension, there's Jeff Beal's light film score of strings plucked and bowed, woozy with sharps and flats.
These exhilarating few minutes are as witty and affecting a snapshot of a man's sudden fascination as exists on film, and reason enough to see this one, although more exist.
The movie is last year's vastly underrated Western from Ed Harris, "Appaloosa," adapted from Robert B. Parker's 2005 novel. With mixed reviews from critics, "Appaloosa" still did well enough with audiences for a five-month theatrical run and has been out on DVD since January. But Central New Yorkers can see it again on the big screen at the Eastwood Palace during this year's Syracuse International Film Festival. Afterward there's a Q&A with actor Tom Bower, a returning friend of the film festival, co-screenwriter Robert Knott and film score composer and trumpeter Beal.
Ed Harris produced, co-scripted and, in his second such effort, directed "Appaloosa." He also he stars as Virgil Cole, itinerant mercenary peace-keeper. But it's Hitch's voice-over that book-ends the film. If the two men often communicate with little more than nods and glances it's not that Hitch is tongue-tied. This fastidious, disciplined man begins by informing us that he'd come West, a West Point graduate like his father before him, after the War Between the States. He did some Indian fighting -- the Indian Wars also closed down Appaloosa's copper mine some years back -- then Hitch had joined up with Cole a dozen years ago. Appaloosa is the story of how the two hire out to rid this town of its resident warlord, Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), and his thugs, and how each in his way outgrows the other.