Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

I Wanna Be You

The long title of 10 words strike you initially, and besides having a mouthful of a title, the duration too is at a whopping 160 minutes, of which I can humbly suggest to trim it down to a more manageable 120 minutes.

Based on the novel by Ron Hansen, the narrated parts which provided much of the needed background on Jesse Jame coupled with key timelines, were somehow more enjoyable than the rest of the movie itself. For some reason, the voiceover, repetitive (like a one-trick pony, though beautifully haunting) score and soft visual focus provided it with some form of documentary styled legitimacy, only to be hampered by the more clunky delivery on some of the more dramatic aspects. This is not to say that the actors were below par in their fleshing of the characters, but you can sense a deep attempt in trying to emulate styles like Terence Mallick's, in crafting a movie which lingered with still visuals, silence, with unquestionably wonderful cinematography.

Our notion of Jesse James is probably one of an outlaw of the wild west who's quick on the draw as well as being a notorious robber/killer molded into the Robin Hood reputation. There are plenty of different interpretations of Jesse James, but none comes so interesting or as intense as Brad Pitt's. Through his confident swagger and suspicious demeanour, here's a man who precedes his reputation, who is clear as crystal in knowing what's he doing, and what the risks are, but nonetheless human prone to err after all.

However, the film's focus was presumably put more on Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), the wide eyed recruit who joins Jesse's gang, and that became a dream come true as it presents an opportunity to work with his idol. And his idolization becomes a strange obsession, as he draws physical parallels between Jesse and himself, that makes even Jesse himself edgy and uncomfortable, even questioning at one point if Robert just wants to be like him, or be him. Hence sparks the crazed suspicion and like the adage says, it's better to keep friends close, and your enemies closer.

I thought Sam Rockwell stole the show from both Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt in his portrayal of Charley Ford, which reminds me of a Chinese adage of pretending to be a pig to eat the tiger. His Charley is clearly no simpleton, but his depiction of being one probably led to his being able to survive for a long while, when Jesse slowly dispatches the others. But what took the cake, was his spot on impersonation of not only Brad Pitt, but of Pitt's portrayal of Jesse James as well, in a scene so short, but nonetheless quite pivotal leading to the final moments of the movie.

There are a few points you must note about the movie. I felt that the full house audience didn't really know what to expect, thinking that it's Pitt on screen, and his presence actually drew in the crowds. And while everyone's waiting for the title incident to happen, they discovered that they're waiting too long. Bear in mind the film runs more than 2.5 hours, and you have to be incredibly patient to get there. I felt a little sorry for the masses who walked out, especially those who did so just before the turn of events, and thereon the pace actually quickened, though covering nothing more than what you can read from encyclopedias under 5 minutes.

Those expecting big shoot-em-outs and action sequences like 3:10 to Yuma will also be disappointed, as the action here is never stylized, just presented as a matter of fact for cowboys in that era. Gun fights, if you can call them that, are so extremely ordinary, you'll find yourself more amazed by the intricate weapon design, and the plenty of gunpowder used which explains the plumes of smoke, coupled with the primitive, unsophisticated basic revolver that affects accuracy.

Instead, what this movie is, is a well crafted and very measured piece of drama that tells the tale of a legendary outlaw, and his heinous betrayal.

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