The latest film from director Andrew Dominik, starring Brad Pitt as Jesse James and Casey Affleck as Robert Ford is one of the year’s best films. Its title tells us of the climax, but the build up is amazing and for me at least, unknown.I let the film go by without a second thought, after hearing of all the editing problems etc earlier in the year and I must admit, I only saw the film because I was told by many web journos and bloggers that it was a masterpiece not to be missed. I think it was great, but not a masterpiece per say. My reason for that conclusion is that the film is stumbles in certain parts and lacks the momentum I expected, at least the kind of momentum a masterpiece is able to maintain. At some points it was riveting; at others it was almost boring. I honestly thought the credits would begin rolling once the climax had been reached, but then it went on for about thirty more minutes, and I knew then that that was its biggest fault.The characters are very well developed and portrayed even better. Some characters are over developed, and I didn’t care for them too much, but they were necessary components to understanding the essence of Jesse James and what made him tick. Some film-goers argued that they wanted to find out more about Jesse James and less about his gang members, but to be honest, I cared more for the development and drive of Robert Ford, no doubt because of Casey Affleck’s heartbreaking and striking turn.Ford’s pure admiration, which is an understatement, for James is awkward and pathetic, but at the same time we are able to both understand his plight and feel his fear as well. His acts were cowardly and selfish, but he doesn’t see them that way. When he is off the screen, it feels empty, proof of an exceptional supporting performance, deserving to be called a lead performance as he elevated the film far higher than what it would have been if he had not been cast or if more of his screen time had been given to Pitt’s portrayal, in my humble opinion. He always knew that by assassinating James that he would be acknowledged, but I don’t think he ever wanted to be thought of as a coward.
Pitt’s performance is good enough, he is able to take a man easy to dislike and turn him into a man you feel compassion and even respect for. He was one of the first celebrities out there, and with that comes the love/hate relationships he experienced and the mixture of feelings he makes us feel. His Jesse James is tortured and frightening, making viewers almost feel uncomfortable or less important in his “presence”.
The story focuses on Jesse James who was very much an outlaw, thought to be a ‘Robin Hood’ like character by some and a down right criminal by others, as he plans a robbery with the help of his loyal gang, and is then pursued by his enemies in pursuit of the bounty on James’ head. In order to survive, he must realize that his troubles lie not some much with the outsiders on his trail, but the people close to him in his life, most importantly his most faithful and devious admirer, Robert Ford.
The supporting players all give some exceptional performances, especially Paul Schneider, Sam Shepard and Jeremy Renner. Mary-Louise Parker, who I love with a passion, was a waste in her role as James’ wife, with limited screen time and very little writing, I just expected more from her character, and then she could have lit up the screen. They were all very distinctive in respect to some of their limited screen time, and served as integral characters nothing short of brilliant.
For a film I didn’t expect much from, I got a lot in return. I fully expect an Academy Award nomination (possibly a win) for Casey Affleck and over-due cinematographer Roger Deakins (In the Valley of Elah and No Country for Old Men). A costume design (Patricia Norris) and art direction nomination (Janice Blackey-Goodine) are not out of the question either. The eerie score is a high point as well, by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave that fits just perfectly.
It is as much poetic and artistic as it is biographical, elevating a story well-known, and leaving us feeling spoilt, almost like we got more than we deserved, I think it is a remarkable film, one that will go down in the books, no matter how it fares during the awards season.
Written and directed by Andrew Dominik, staring Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Mary-Louise Parker, Sam Shepard, Paul Schneider, Jeremy Renner, Garret Dillahunt, Sam Rockwell and Zooey Deschanel, cinematography by Roger Deakins, editing by Dylan Tichenor and Michael Kahn, music by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave, running time: 160 mins.
Trivia: The role of Robert Ford was given to Casey Affleck after his only competition, Shia Labeouf, was deemed too young. As much as I love Shia, I couldn’t have expected him to play Ford anywhere near as brilliantly as Affleck did.