Thursday, March 20, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

2008 Drama/Western

STARRING Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, Sam Shepard
WRITTEN BY Andrew Domink, based on the novel by Ron Hansen
DIRECTED BY Andrew Dominik

There's a lot to be said of a movie whose title dares spoil the punch right from the get go, since in a way in doesn't really. Of course Jesse James ends up assassinated by Robert Ford - just as we knew the Titanic sinks, Marty gets back to the future and Fredo Corleone is a wuss. What it truly spoils though is the irony; History remembers Robert Ford as a sniveling weasel who killed his friend to get famous and rich while Jesse was a Jolly-Golly great guy who loved everyone and never had an evil bone in his body. But the truth, although probably truncated a bit in the film for dramatic purposes, was much more complex, sad and dark.

The story picks up Jesse James during his last big job with brother Frank, and a bunch of hired tugs to help out since the original gang members were all either dead or in jail. One of them Robert Ford, initially tries to become a sidekick to his childhood idol Jesse, only to realize that the myth was much larger and sunnier than the man. As health leaves Jesse while paranoia gains him, both men will lock themselves in crash course with an inevitability that plagues whatever is left or their lives.

Many naysayers and critics of the film denounce its length -2 and a half hours- for making it a boring tableau of depressing dialogs. Lucky for them the original 4-hour cut was trimmed down for theatrical release, but that's besides the point. Their real beef is that most movie goers were expecting a western, an epic with lush action sequences and great moments of emotional roller coasters. The absence of which is what actually makes it such a piece of art.

The very melancholic (and striking) music brings forth and carries a sense of doom and sadness throughout the film, adding to the forebaring narration which puts the viewer on a path to feeling heartbreak for all of its protagonists. With the "mystery" out of the equation, the viewer is allowed to experience the true surprise and discovery - knowing who exactly was Jesse James as a man, what could go through the mind of his killer, what influence did they both have living and dead. Truly majestic editing allows such discoveries and appreciation, even beyond the titular event which isn't the end of the line.

All of it would mean nothing without outstanding performances, by all involved. Of course Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt, with all of his usual ticks and mannerism, but the man also carries tremendous charisma which is a trait everyone seems to agree on for the famous outlaw. The true acclaim however goes to his cast-mates, none of them stars or A-listers but each and everyone respected and admirable thespians, bringing much grounded credibility to the project. To be noted among them are Paul Schneider (previously noticed in "Elizabethtown" and "The Family Stone"), Micheal Parks, the always lovely Zooey Deschanel in a blink-and-youll-miss appearance and even left-wing commentator James Carville as a self-righteous state governor.

All of them are however overshadowed by the increasingly amazing Casey Affleck, who brings such a mixed bag or mystery, emotions and empathy to his character or Robert Ford that along with "Gone Baby Gone", little-bro Casey has managed to completely shatter the perception of being nothing else than Big Ben's sibling.

A piece of advice - WATCH the movie, in peace and tranquility, without interruption. It is truly one of those epics that deserve such attention to be fully digested and understood.

Final score on the CC Scale: 5 out of 5

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