The bald and square-jawed Ed Harris has played American heroes and psycho killers since first drawing notice as astronaut John Glenn in 1983's "The Right Stuff." He's now written and directed "Appaloosa," an amiable Western about masculine camaraderie and honor adapted from the book by Robert B. Parker, the genre novelist who created Spenser, the Boston private eye. "Appaloosa" furnishes Harris and Viggo Mortensen (the King in "The Return of the King") with plenty of wry lines for their portrayals of itinerant lawmen in the New Mexico of the 1880s.
Fish do not feel wet, we are told (although on what authority, I cannot say), and cowboys and Indians movies once felt no more awkward than cops and robbers films do today. Westerns were then less a genre than a natural, default mode.
In the early 1970s, however, urban crime dramas, such as "The French Connection" and "The Godfather" replaced Westerns as the norm. The Western has since become a highly self-conscious genre, one almost immobilized by the weight of its pre-1970 cinema history.
As an actor, however, Harris appears unburdened by all the film school baggage the Western has accumulated. The straightforward "Appaloosa" provides two outstanding roles and sundry old-fashioned pleasures.
October 1, 2008
Here's an excerpt from my review in The American Conservative: