Thursday, March 01, 2007

March 1, 2007 Bonus Blog
Mark Boardman forwarded me the following rave review on the long-delayed The Assasination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. I have culled the main comments that were interesting to me, but here's the site if you want to read the entire review:

Last night I caught an advanced screening of THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (from here on referred to as JESSE JAMES for the purposes of fast typing) here at the Grove in Los Angeles.

This film is a masterwork. It's the closest thing to a Terrence Malick movie that Terrence Malick never directed. I was reminded many times of Malick's most recent masterpiece THE NEW WORLD while watching JESSE JAMES; there are stretches with no dialogue, heavy emphasis on nature, and a poetic and meditative tone. I hesitate to call JESSE JAMES a "western"....I mean, it's certainly not a "Western" like the recent OPEN RANGE, THE MISSING, or UNFORGIVEN. It’s not concerned with minutiae or artifice; it’s stark, crisp, and clean.

It's essentially a psychological study of a murder, and a murderer, and it doesn’t play to many of the more cliché Western conventions that we’ve seen over and over again. I will keep the story description brief: Casey Affleck plays Robert Ford, and is absolutely amazing in the role. I have never thought anything of him as an actor but that all changed last night. He has a very, very tough role, playing a deeply unsympathetic guy who the audience knows will end up killing Jesse James at some point in the narrative. Affleck brings a strung-out, beaten-down quality to the character of Ford, and as the movie progresses, you watch as he becomes more confident of himself, and how he starts to believe his own madness.

Brad Pitt plays Jesse James with cocky swagger and is just awesome. He owns the role, it’s like it was tailor made for him. Just watch the way the guy smokes his cigars and moves his head and eyes….methodical and unnerving. Like Ford, Jesse isn't a very likeable guy (come to think of it, nobody in the movie is particularly likeable) but you end up warming to him a little bit (I did at least) even though he's basically asking to get killed throughout the entire picture.

The supporting cast is aces across the board, with Sam Rockwell registering best as Ford's brother. This guy is so damn good it's a crime he doesn't get enough attention. Sam Shepard, Mary Louise Parker, and slew of excellent character actors round out the cast. But the movie belongs to Casey Affleck. He's just riveting all throughout.

The film is more about style and atmosphere than anything else. It's a tone poem of sorts about a gritty, dark period in American history. It feels extremely intimate yet very epic at times, due in large part to the stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins (FARGO, JARHEAD, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?) Using what appeared to be natural light almost exclusively, and an impressionistic shooting style composed of beautiful vistas, extreme close-ups, silhouettes, moonlight, train-light, and a gauzy effect similar to Bob Richardson’s brilliant cinematography in SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS. It's just glorious. Every shot is perfect. No joke. I am a big fan of movies that lean on the visual aspects of storytelling to present information; and this being a Ridley and Tony Scott production, no expense has been spared to make JESSE JAMES look totally authentic (without being garish or over-blown) Of late, some of my favorite films have been THE NEW WORLD, CHILDREN OF MEN, THE GOOD SHEPHERD, MUNICH, THE DEPARTED, MIAMI VICE, APOCALYPTO, CITY OF GOD, MAN ON FIRE, and many others. I am attracted to the different ways that filmmakers can present their ideas through visuals, rather than words.

And I just fell in love with this film from the start. From the god-like voiceover narration that runs over the entire movie to the attention paid to each and every shot, there are moments of sublime beauty at almost every turn in this film. It's essentially an art film set in the old west. And when the story gets violent, it gets extremely intense. In fact, one of the things that I loved about this film so much was the constant feeling of dread and uncertainty that runs through each scene. Right from the start, you get the feeling that any character could meet their maker at any point. And that's one of the things about the old West that made that time period so dangerous; people got killed in a heartbeat, over simple stuff. And when people get shot in this film, it's brutal and unflinching. Not sensationalized or over the top, but rather grim and raw. Like what you'd see on DEADWOOD.

What makes JESSE JAMES better than most movies are the moral shades of gray that the characters exhibit. JESSE JAMES is basically about how one man comes to the decision to kill his idol, and in the crudest comparison, I guess maybe the movie is sort of like a stalker-thriller. Ford idolizes Jesse, wants to ride with him, wants to rob with him. But the relationship that develops between the two men is awkward and volatile, giving off an un-easy feeling all throughout the movie.

I know this review is all over the place but there are so many things I loved about this movie. The time Dominik took to tell his story, the gripping performances, the literate dialogue, the incredible scenery, and the breathtaking ending that is so perfect it's almost a joke. It's stark, visceral, beautiful, and haunting. But here's the deal---I doubt you'll all get to see this version of the movie. I got the sense (maybe from the dozen or so walk-outs, mostly female) that this movie is going to get trimmed and cut and unnecessarily messed with. After the screening, I marched right up to Ridley Scott (who produced the movie with his brother Tony) and told him in these exact words: "Don't change a single frame of this film." He smiled, we chatted briefly, I told him how amazing I thought it was but that I felt that the audience might be narrow. He seemed to agree. A cool guy, and one of my personal film heroes.

So, in a nutshell, an amazing effort from a new, dynamic voice in film--Andrew Dominik. I'd assume Warner's will release JESSE JAMES sometime in the fall, and I won't be surprised if it's a limited release at first. While it couldn't have cost a ton of money to produce, it's such a specific niche-film that I fear it will get overlooked. If that were to happen, it'd be a crime. A complete crime. There was absolutely nothing I didn't love about this movie, and I could only hope that 10 movies of this caliber would get released every year. THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES is the kind of movie that makes me happy to be a film buff, and one that I can't wait to re-watch over and over again. Please, please, please Warners---don't take anything out of this gem. You've made an art-film....treat it with the respect it deserves.

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