Friday, February 22, 2008

More Oscar Week

A few nights ago Becca and I watched The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, a movie almost as long as its title. Not to say that it wasn't good. It's an absolutely beautiful film. I once again assert that Roger Deakins is the greatest cinematographer ever, living or dead. He's up for two Oscars this year, for this film and for No Country for Old Men. I actually think his work here is stronger. The tale lends itself to more visual sumptuousness, and it really plays to his strengths as a Director of Photography.
The supporting cast is incredible, not just Casey Affleck but also Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider and Garret Dillahunt (who also played Wendell in No Country, in case you're keeping score.) It was like a who's who of my favorite character actors! Affleck really does stand out in the film though, and it's clear why the Academy singled him out. His portrayal of Robert Ford is both creepy and heartbreaking, and sometimes you just want to cry for his awkwardness. It's a great leap forward for him, and it leads me to believe he might just show us some great things in the future.
There are a couple of weak spots in the film. First, the story meanders towards the end. There is too much time devoted to Ford's story after he kills James. This should have been gone through at a good clip, and although it develops Ford's character a bit more, it's not worth the significant increase to the running time. Second, Mary-Louise Parker, an extremely gifted actress, is absolutely squandered in the film. She plays James's wife, and aside from one or two lines of dialogue she has absolutely no role in the film. I have to believe that there was a whole side story involving her that got cut because of time, because it's just distracting having someone like her in a role made for a block of wood.
The film's main failing is Brad Pitt's, though. For the first half of the film he's superb, all menace and charisma done in a very subtle way. The second half, however, he falls into his 12 Monkeys comfort zone. He chews the scenery and laughs maniacally until you have to pick fragments of his performance out of your skull because he's hit you over the head with it so many times. He hasn't been able to move past this tendency when he's taken on roles like this, and I'm beginning to think he never will. He's gonna have to play a mentally challenged civil rights attorney who's running a marathon in order to ever get an Oscar for himself.
The film's long running time may turn some off, but it's worth watching. There's some great stuff, and the first half in particular weaves a pretty powerful spell.


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