Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger | R

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

WESTERN

Westerns may have gone the way of the Old West—showing up at multiplexes about as frequently as brass spittoons at a saloon these days—but the entertaining Appaloosa makes an excellent case that there's plenty of spark left in the genre.

Set in 1882, the film stars Harris (who cowrote and directed) as an itinerant, gunslinging lawman. He's hired, along with his trusty deputy (Mortensen), to stop a murderous local rancher (Jeremy Irons, doing a live-action version of his snide Scar from The Lion King) in Appaloosa, a town in the New Mexico territories. When a fetching widow (Zellweger) comes to the burg, the bachelor marshal considers putting down roots.

Appaloosa has all the standard elements of a western (shoot-outs, horses and open spaces), but what makes it so pleasurable is its concentration on character. There's caring effort, in the sharp writing and acting, to make sure we fully understand each of the main characters and their motivations. All three leads are effective, with a lean, squinty-eyed Mortensen in particular showing yet again what a magnetic, underrated star he is.

Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Téa Leoni | PG-13

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COMEDY
The ghosts of previous romantic comedies float through this one, but it's still fun. Gervais, the lumpy-faced English comedian who co-created and starred in the original BBC version of TV's The Office, plays a morose Manhattan dentist who finds, after a near-death experience, that he can see dead people—and they in turn can see, and pester, him. One of these ghosts, a bon vivant in a tuxedo (Kinnear), is a philanderer who wants Gervais's help to break up his widow's (Leoni) betrothal. Predictably, the dentist falls for her himself. Gervais shows he can carry a movie here, while Kinnear and Leoni add pep and sex appeal.

Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper | PG-13

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HISTORICAL
A titled young Englishwoman is married off to a rich older aristocrat whose sole concern is that she bear him a male heir. She soon charms the nation with her looks, style and wit, but her dour husband lavishes more affection on his dogs—and other women—than on her.

Sound familiar? The parallels between the lives of Georgiana Spencer (Knightley), the 18th-century Duchess of Devonshire, and Diana Spencer, the Princess of Wales (and Georgiana's great-great-great-great niece), serve as pointed subtext in this lush biopic.

Based on Amanda Foreman's 1998 biography, Duchess races through Georgiana's life story, hitting the high spots but neglecting to fully flesh out this fascinating woman. Knightley acquits herself admirably but does much of her acting with her eyebrows. Fiennes is superb as her fuddy-duddy hubby, locating the sympathetic soft spots within his boorish brute.

• The Mission: Impossible III actress, 32, races for her life with Shia LaBeouf in the upcoming thriller Eagle Eye.

YOU SPEND A LOT OF THE FILM RUNNING AROUND!
I read the script and was thinking about the character and not all the action stuff. We started and I was like, "Wait, we're running again today?" It was constant sprints.

HOW DID YOUR BODY HOLD UP?
By the end, I was in the best shape of my life. Then I got pregnant and thought, "I'm not going to move a muscle now for the next nine [months]!" It's been awesome.

WILL YOU KEEP WORKING AFTER GIVING BIRTH?
I'm going to concentrate on being a mom. This baby is my boss, so we'll see.

Mickey Rourke, Oscar nominee? I'm a believer. With his moving portrayal of a washed-up pro grappler reluctant to hang up his tights in The Wrestler, the actor body slams his way to a sure nomination. A hit with both critics and audiences during the festival's second week, The Wrestler is due in December.

To shape Knightley into the style of an 18th-century aristocrat, costume designer Michael O'Connor created ornate corsets that squeezed her waist down to a mere 21 1/2 inches. "We had to fasten it as best we could and then sew her in," he says. "She was a great sport."

LAKEVIEW TERRACE
In a mediocre thriller, an abusive LAPD cop (Samuel L. Jackson) takes a serious dislike to his new neighbors (Kerry Washington and Patrick Wilson). (PG-13)

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