28 January 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

This movie is definitely on my top 10 list for most incredible cinematography I have ever seen. Visually, it's poetry. It's incredible, just gorgeous. Also, it ought to be noted as being the best portrayal of uncomfortable laughter I've seen in a very long time. It nails awkward conversations in a really ingenious fashion - very well done. The acting, throughout, is also pretty phenomenal - Brad Pitt is fantastic, and Casey Affleck manages to make his boyishly cute face do all kinds of fascinating things, from resentment to awestruck admiration to shame to a delicate femininity that goes nicely with the film's undercurrent of homo-eroticism - which, incidentally, is subtly and skillfully handled.

Unfortunately, the movie is long as hell, and doesn't really hold itself together well. The individual scenes are great, but they're kind of haphazardly strung together with a ponderous monotony that leaves you stretching and looking at your watch halfway through. The movie tries to be epic and contain multiple narratives about various characters, but it ends up somewhat bloated. While it is somewhat interesting to watch the in-fighting among the gang, all these rambling digressions ultimately make the movie seem unfocused. We know that Ford is going to kill James. But somehow, it's hard to care. Actually, the film is at its most interesting after the murder, when it shows Ford traveling around the country and performing the deed onstage, and the strange transformation his brother undergoes. It holds your attention for a minute, but then somehow it loses it again... and goes on for another half an hour. Worst of all, perhaps, is the droning omniscient narrator - jesus, couldn't they find someone with a better voice? Not to mention a better script?

The movie wants to explore hero worship and the romanticization of criminals, and tries to balance humanizing the characters and showing their less flattering sides while simultaneously letting us see why they were lionized the way they were, and I guess it does a decent job of it, but somehow it feels incredibly flat and uninspired. I suppose a lot of it ultimately turns on whether you end up sympathizing with Ford or not, which I couldn't quite manage to do. I didn't despise him, I just never cared much about him. James, on the other hand, was a fascinating character. Though I must say, the narrator told me early on that he blinked more often than most people because of an eye condition, but Pitt plays him with an unflinching stare that seems to directly contradict this. Which is too bad.

So yeah, not so much on this one. Though goddamn, the cinematography is amazing.

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