This story is about two guys hired as Town Marshalls to restore order in a small town in the west. Ed Harris plays the lead character Virgil Cole. The setting is the New Mexico territory during the early 1800's. Virgil Cole goes west when he gets out of the army after the Civil War. He partners with Everett Hitch (played by Viggo Mortensen). They go together as team fighting bad guys along the way.
The Appaloosa Town Marshall (played by Robert Jauregui) goes to ranch of bad guy Randall Bragg (played by Jeremy Irons) to get two guys wanted for murdering another man, then raping and killing his wife. The Marshall tells one of his deputies with him to arrest the two men. Bragg shoots the Marshall and two deputies.
Cole and Hitch come to the town of Appaloosa to be the new Marshalls. They are hired by the townsfolk to take care of the problem with Bragg and his men. They agree as long as the city allows them to run everything according to their own laws. Four of Bragg's men come into the saloon causing troubles. Cole and Hitch confront them and kill three of the four. This causes Bragg to come into town with more of his men. Cole warns him, the new laws are now the town bylaws. Bragg laughs at him, but leaves without a fight, saying this is not the place or the time.
A single woman, Mrs. Allison “Allie” French (played by Renee Zellweger), arrives in town. Cole and Hitch meet her in the restaurant. She is a widow. She is looking for a job. Cole asks her if she is a whore. She says no, she plays the piano. Cole says they will make sure she gets a job playing the piano.
Cole and Hitch runs into some of Bragg's men just outside town. Bragg's men tell him he has no jurisdiction outside of town. Cole smashes him in the mouth with his six-gun. Cole tells them to tell Bragg he is not afraid of them.
Allie plays piano in the saloon. Cole and her have a talk about his experiences with women. A drunk smarts off to Cole and he beats him down fiercely without sufficient reason. Allie is shocked. The townspeople get upset but they have to take the bad with the good when it comes to Cole. Allie and Cole become intimate. Hitch sees them kissing in the Marshall's office. Cole and Allie tell Hitch they are going to live together.
A young ranch hand, who works with Bragg, comes into town. He tells Cole he will testify he saw Bragg kill the previous Marshall and his two men. Cole and Hitch surprise Bragg on his ranch by sneaking up on him in the outhouse, when no one else is around. They arrest him. Bragg's men see them leading him away. Cole and Hitch use Bragg as a hostage to pass by the men without being shot. They bring Bragg into town and throw him into jail. Bragg is put on trial. He is found guilty. He is sentenced to hang at a prison nearby. He is transported to the prison by train, guarded by armed men. The train is stopped. Two gunslingers hired by Bragg have kidnapped Allie. They use her as a hostage to get Bragg released. They do not release Allie, so Cole and Hitch follow them.
When they catch up to them, they see Allie skinny-dipping in the river with one of the gunslingers hired by Bragg. Cole realizes the woman has betrayed him, but he still has feelings for her. Indians also see them. The Indians attack Bragg and his men. Cole and Hitch scare the Indians off, and capture Bragg again. The Indians do not go very far away. They stay on the hills nearby watching them. Hitch goes to speak with them. He trades them a horse for safe passage. They get to a small town. Cole and Hitch have a shoot-out with the gunslingers because they try to take Bragg away from them. Cole and Hitch are injured badly but do not die.
Time passes, and Cole and Hitch are back at Appaloosa fully recovered. They gets news the President of the United States has pardoned Bragg. Bragg comes back to Appaloosa. Bragg uses his influence in an attempt to get Cole and Hitch fired. Hitch thinks it is time to move on. Cole wants to stay behind and be with Allie. Hitch takes off his badge, quits being a Marshall, and calls Bragg out to gunfight in the street. Hitch asks Cole to do him this one favor and let him fight Bragg. Cole steps aside. Bragg draws, but Hitch shoots him first. Hitch rides off in the sunset leaving his good friend Cole behind, who is still the Marshall, and now has a decent chance to make a life with Allie.
Best part of story, including ending:
The loyalty Hitch has for his friend Cole is very admirable.
Best scene in story:
When Cole and Hitch catch up with the kidnappers they are surprised to see Allie skinny-dipping in the river with one of them. It is shocking to see Allie is not really the good woman she pretends to be.
Opinion about the main character:
Cole has a really bad temper. If he wasn't a lawman he would be a criminal. I like this because he found a way to make the law work for him.