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Ed Harris, directing his second film, rides on to the celluloid range with the most enjoyable Western since Clint Eastwood set about saving the genre from big-screen extinction.
Harris, who also stars, has a "traditional" take on this most American of cinematic forms. It is a gripping tale set in 1882 New Mexico, with Harris bringing real vigour and credibility to his role of lawman Virgil Cole. Together with Deputy Elliott Hitch (Viggo Mortensen, right) he is hired by the citizens of Appaloosa to bring ruthless rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons, excellent and a genuinely nasty villain) to justice for the murder of the city marshal.
Harris's direction vividly revitalises genre elements that have become clichéd through repetition so that key scenes - shootouts, outlaws riding into town - come up bright and entertaining. The dialogue crackles, Harris and Mortensen make a memorable double act, and Renee Zellweger shines in one of her best roles in a long time as the seemingly buttoned-up newcomer who turns out to be far from the person she seems to be.
Smartly staged action, Dean Semler's atmospheric cinematography and evocatively used locations complement a first-rate film of its type.