Unpretentious, un-epic Western, adapted from a novel by the hard-boiled mystery writer Robert B. Parker. It bears more than a passing resemblance to a pseudonymous variation on the Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday legend, the 1959 Warlock, without itself qualifying as a variation on that legend. We have again the two-man team in a peripatetic “peacekeeping business” (Have Gun — Will Travel), the living legend and the overshadowed sidekick. We have also the outsized outlaw gang who hold the titular town in their grip. We have, in conciser form, an identical opening, the elimination of the incumbent peace officer and the appearance of his replacements on a hilltop overlook. We have forthwith the Earpian edict of no guns within city limits. We have the woman who comes between the two peacekeepers. (In Warlock it was actually two women.) And we even have a recognizable replay, on a reduced scale, and nowhere near movie’s end, of the showdown at the O.K. Corral. But we don’t have, among other things, any clear distinction, and thus any palpable tension, between the two peacekeeping partners. (There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but their complete compatibility disqualifies the movie as a variation on Earp-Holliday.) Both are cookie-cutter Strong Silent Types, and well played in that mode by the leathery Ed Harris, who also directed, and a Buffalo Bill-whiskered Viggo Mortensen, weighed down with a bazooka-sized eight-gauge shotgun. The movie, even while it would not compare favorably to its antecedent, can rest comfortably on the tight-jawed interplay between these men, and on its brisk and efficient action scenes, and finally, lingeringly, on the climactic act of friendship of the sidekick for his love-struck partner. That has some real nobility to it, and some subtlety, some irony. With Renée Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, Timothy Spall, Lance Henriksen, Ariadna Gil. 2008.

3.0 stars

— Duncan Shepherd

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