It's a Western. I love Westerns. It stars Ed Harris, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay (based on the novel by Robert B. Parker), and Viggo Mortenson, with Jeremy Irons as the bad guy and Renee Zellweger as the love interest. Hell of a cast, right? The trailer made it look pretty sweet. The reviews were good. So I went.
The trailer and reviews had unaccountably neglected to mention one minor aspect of the film: namely, IT IS POSSIBLY THE SLASHIEST FUCKING MOVIE THAT HAS EVER BEEN MADE. I am not kidding. It literally plays like Ed Harris did extensive research on slash, made up a detailed checklist of exactly what slash fangirls want, and proceeded to check EVERY GODDAMN TICKY BOX.
Harris is Virgil Cole, a roaming lawman-for-hire who specializes in towns in trouble. Mortensen is Everett Hitch, his moustached companion. When local law enforcement proves too weak or vulnerable to gunfire, the politicians hire Cole and Hitch to run things -- literally, with borderline dictatorial powers -- for long enough to straighten things out. When politically connected badman Randall Bragg (Irons) shoots down the marshal of the town of Appaloosa, Cole and Hitch are tasked with bringing law and order to Appaloosa, even if they have to go against Bragg's small army to do it. Complicating matters: widow Allison French (Zellweger) arrives in town and strikes up a relationship with Cole -- but she's got issues of her own, the greatest of which is a fear that draws her to the most powerful man around. Whoever he is at the moment.
The movie is slow, but you feel it growing on you, and eventually you just let yourself marinate in it. It's a character study more than an action pic, and the major focus is the relationship between Cole and Hitch. You know, the kind of thing that slash fans read stuff into even if it isn't there.
And then Harris gets mad and beats the shit out of a drunk in a saloon, and Mortensen hauls him off and holds him closely from behind until he stops struggling. And keeps holding him. And holding him. And dipping his head so his moustache comes to rest against the back of Harris's neck. Not kidding. It's startling, because up until that point there's deniability. And then, when Mortensen goes from holding Harris like a friend to holding him like a lover, you realize that THIS IS IN FACT GAYER THAN BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. One second Mortensen's trying to keep Harris from fighting, the next he's holding him like they're snuggling in the shower.
The movie basically stops pretending after that. When Zellweger, feeling isolated, makes a pass at Mortensen, he stops her. "You're with Virgil," he says. "So am I."
Later, in a scene with Harris and Mortensen, she tells Harris that Mortensen tried to put his hands on her. Mortensen says he did not. Harris believes Mortensen. Unhesitatingly. No question. Complete trust. In a later scene, Mortensen elaborates on exactly what happened, and they discuss Zellweger's character and her flaws calmly, respectfully, and without excessive emotion. No secrets from Harris. Nor does Harris have secrets from Mortensen: when he sleeps with Zellwegger the first time, she and Harris both come downstairs in the hotel where they're all staying and join Mortensen for breakfast. (The slash dynamic in which a flawed woman serves as a conduit for the love of two men? PRETTY MUCH HOW THIS MOVIE WORKS.)
The short version of the dynamic is that Mortensen's Hitch is in love with Harris's Cole. It is a deep and abiding love, and Hitch probably does not entirely understand it. He does not seem to be capable of articulating it. Except, you know, in the scene where Cole takes off to follow some bad men through the desert despite *not having horses* and Hitch takes the train back to town, gets horses and Cole's gear, and tracks him through the desert to bring him creature comforts, like coffee. (It is kind of hard to say that coffee has some sort of subtext in this film, because *it's not exactly subtext.* Also, watch how characters contact the backs of other characters' necks. It happens in ways you might not expect.) Hitch does not object to Cole's involvement with Allie French, even when French acts in ways that you might expect him to condemn: he sees her weaknesses, and understands them, and helps Cole figure out whether they can be lived with, because *he wants Virgil Cole to be happy.*
APPALOOSA is a slashtastic film, folks. It is DUE SOUTH gay. It is THE SENTINEL gay. It is DUE SOUTH + THE SENTINEL gay. My mind actually boggles when I attempt to describe the gay. IT IS A MOVIE IN WHICH THE CLOSING CREDITS BALLAD IS ED HARRIS SINGING TO VIGGO MORTENSEN. I AM NOT EVEN MAKING THAT UP. If Harris and Mortensen were young and pretty, slash fans would be writing fic for this movie every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I think there's still a chance, because if you write slash, or love slash, this movie is pretty much *exactly* everything you want in a movie, and then some.
Seriously, y'all, go see it. Because if I don't start seeing fanvids to Ed Harris's touching *and incredibly gay* ballad "You'll Never Leave My Heart," I will just assume that slash fandom does not love what it professes to love.