The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )
Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )
Studio and Year: Warner/New Line - 2008
MPAA Rating: R
Feature running time: 115 Minutes
Disc Format: BD-25
Video Aspect: 2.40:1
Audio Format(s): English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH & Spanish
Starring: Ed Harris, Viggio Mortensen, Renee ZellWeger, Jeremy Irons, Lance Henriksen, Timothy Spall
Directed by: Ed Harris
Written by: Robert Knott & Ed Harris based on the novel by Robert B. Parker
Region Code: A
Blu-ray Disc release Date: January 13, 2009
"Feelings get you killed"
Paired as rivals in A History of Violence, Ed Harris (who also directs, produces and co-scripts) and Viggo Mortensen stand together as friends and for-hire peacekeepers Cole and Hitch in a character-driven, bullet-hard Western based on Robert B. Parkers novel. As the woman who arrives in town with only a dollar and a keen sense of survival, Renée Zellweger adds feelings things that can get you killed to a quest to bring murderer Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) to justice. Blood will spill in the town called Appaloosa.
I love westerns and seeing the cast for Appaloosa I looked forward to the opportunity to review it. Ed Harris has long been a favorite of mine and I find Viggio Mortensen to be a dedicated, intense and overall fine actor. The film is based upon the novel by Robert B. Parker and follows two men who have carved out a career and reputation as peacekeepers for hire for towns that don’t have dedicated law enforcement. Virgil Cole (Harris) and Everett Hitch are summoned to Appaloosa after their Marshall Jack Bell is killed by Randall Bragg (Irons), a local rancher. Bragg and his men feel that they are above the law and regularly prey upon the people of Appaloosa. Virgil is a no nonsense authoritarian who wastes little time is establishing a new mindset for conduct in Appaloosa. Everett speaks softly but carries a big stick (so to speak) and is dedicated to his friend Virgil and his profession. Bragg and his men immediately put Virgil and Everett to the test but the lawmen have no troubling standing their ground as this is something that they have done many times in the past. Virgil is determined to bring Bragg to justice for the murder of Marshall Bell but needs to be able to link him to it since the Marshall’s body was never found. One day the train arrives in town and on the train comes something that neither men were prepared for. Her name is Allie French and she is a well dressed, well spoken widow that Virgil is immediately smitten with. The two of them quickly establish a relationship and Virgil begins to think seriously about settling down with her. Allie is strong willed and is desirous of a man who can take care of her and provide her with a stable and secure life. The problem is that her perception of who that is seems to be ambiguous which leads to turmoil that clouds the focus of the men around her. How that impacts Virgil and Everett’s efforts to maintain peace in Appaloosa and their quest for Justice in the Marshall Bell killing is the crux of this interesting and entertaining film.
This was directed and co-written by star Ed Harris. It features well drawn characters that are not overly elaborate which is one of the things that I found interesting. Back in those days I imagine that people’s needs were pretty basic. Survival was at the top of the list and anything else was icing on the cake. I found Allie to have few redeeming qualities but to men of that era a woman who spoke well, chewed with their mouth closed, wasn’t a prostitute, and could play the piano was worth taking risks for. For Allie she needed to know that she had a place to stay, food to eat, clothes to wear and a “good” man who could provide those things, regardless. This is definitely a genre film that doesn’t interweave elements that water down its premise. I loved the dialogue between Everett and Virgil. Mortensen and Harris have excellent chemistry and their interaction onscreen worked which made their characters feel more genuine. Renee Zellweger is a fine actress who had no trouble in playing this part. She must have done something right because I really didn’t care for Allie. I did have a little trouble swallowing Jeremy Irons as a cowboy but he has had plenty of experience playing the bad guy so this part probably came natural to him. I felt that the film played just a bit too long and could easily have been cut by 15 minutes or so. The ending was good in that it wasn’t exactly predictable but it felt a little abrupt. Those minor quibbles aside I found this to be a good film that genre fans should appreciate.
The rating is for some violence, language and brief nudity.
AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65
**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Low frequency extension:
- Surround Sound presentation:
- Dialogue Reproduction:
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Black level/Shadow detail:
- Color reproduction:
Appaloosa comes to Blu-ray Disc from New Line/Warner featuring 1080p VC-1 encoded video that has an average bitrate of 17 mbps and lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 channel audio that has an average bitrate of 1.4 mbps.
The VC-1 encode had a bitrate that fluctuated. It bottomed out around 11 mbps and went as high as 31 mbps (here and there) but ultimately averaged around 17 mbps or so. I didn’t see any noise or blocking artifacts which would be overt signs of bit starvation. Picture quality featured average high definition resolution although there were times where images took on more of a definitive and appreciably textured look. The video had a smoother finish which left the finest visual detail unresolved. The long range visuals of the mountains, prairies and western backdrops didn’t have distinctive lines, clearly articulated structure and three dimensional depth. Close ups rarely suffered from this however it was occasionally apparent there as well. Blacks were hearty, dynamic and noise free while complimented by exemplary shadow delineation that brought out the essence of subtle shapes and objects in the dark nighttime sequences. Colors were naturally reproduced with lots of sepia tones and occasional splashes of bright, vibrant hues that popped off of the screen. I saw some banding in the bright background sky in a couple of scenes but it wasn’t enough to be distracting unless you knew where to look. The video may have some minor issues but I don’t think that they interfered with the enjoyment of this film. Being a western, this less than razor sharp high gloss presentation didn’t necessarily feel out of place.
I was glad to see that Warner included a lossless audio encoding on this disc and I hope that they consistently do so on all of their Blu-ray disc releases. This soundtrack offers a mix that is contained in the front channels only. I can’t complain about that because it seemed apropos. This isn’t a flashy, shoot em up, cowboy film full of muzzle blazing gun battles. It is a western drama that relies mainly on dialogue but does contain some elements that can make use of enhanced dynamic range. Dialogue is clear with distinctive vocal character and average room penetration. Channel separation is excellent with a noticeably wide front soundstage. This provided a fair level of envelopment even though there was no real sound emanating from the rear channels. It also enhanced the film’s music, giving it defining presence with broad aural strokes and discernible tonal balance. Gunshots have plenty of dynamic impact with resonating energy that was physically tangible. Chapter 16 contained the only real use of LFE in the movie but its effects were quite good. This sequence involves the steam engines on a locomotive in a near field camera shot that brings the deep, low frequency energy of the engines and grinding of the steel wheels against the tracks right into the room. This is a short but great sounding segment. The only issue I noticed was that I had to boost the volume about 5db to 6db above my normal reference point for most TrueHD soundtracks. It wasn’t a problem and not doing so wasn’t acceptable.
- Commentary by Ed Harris and Screenwriter/producer Robert Knott
- Bringing the characters of Appaloosa to life – 7 minute featurette
- Historic accuracy of Appaloosa – 10 minute documentary
- The Town of Appaloosa – 5 minute set design featurette
- Dean Semler’s return to the western – 5 minute (cinematographer) featurette
- (HD) 6 additional scenes
- Digital Copy Bonus Disc – A standard definition version of the film that can be downloaded from a compatible PC to a portable playback device
Appaloosa is an entertaining, character driven western drama that features a solid cast and competent direction. It probably isn’t destined to be a genre classic but it is certainly worth the price of a rental to check it out. Its debut on Blu-ray Disc comes day and date with the DVD and features good audio/video quality and decent compliment of bonus features.
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