Based on the Robert B. Parker Western novel, Appaloosa follows two mercenary lawmen, Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortenson), as they try to bring justice to the titular New Mexico town that classy villain Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) is determined to control. Harris, who co-wrote and also directed, imbues the project with the same quiet dignity Virgil and Everett comport themselves with, but his pensive, at times lethargic pace brings the action to a screeching halt once too often. The fact that the two characters appear standing on porches, sitting on porches, or, for a change of pace, drinking in the local saloon more than they seem to do anything else--like shoot their guns, for example--should have alerted Harris and editor Kathryn Himoff during postproduction that some drastic cutting needed to be done to give the movie a kick in the ass. The miscasting of Renée Zellweger as a bed-hopping organist in search of Appaloosa's biggest buck only further undermines what could have been a wildly effective western on par with other modern triumphs of the genre such as Unforgiven and Open Range.
Things get started when Bragg murders the local sheriff, an act that drives Appaloosa's officials to hire Virgil and Everett. The friends have ridden together for more than a decade and, while they sell their services as law enforcers, their intentions aren't exactly noble. Their skill set makes them excellent killers; playing marshal and deputy thus allows them to make a legal living the only way they know how. During the respite of violence their presence inspires, Zellweger's Allison French arrives in town and catches Virgil's attention. Allison, who has a thing for strong men, quickly beds Virgil and convinces him to marry her, much to Everett's dismay. A loose love triangle is subsequently set up when Allison tries to conquer Everett, too, something Everett rejects out of loyalty to his friend. Appaloosa understands western tropes all too well and employs them with varying degrees of success, sometimes superbly, but it takes too long to get going and then digs its heels in way before it's time to call it quits.
By the time the expected epic climax comes, the epic gunfight has already taken place. All that's left is some existential moping by Everett as he tries to decide how best to honor his friendship with Virgil and, specifically, guarantee at least the temporary success of Virgil's marriage to hussy Allison. He picks up his gun one more time, and the result delivers an emotional bittersweet wallop, but you're a bit too tuckered out by the stagnant pace to care.