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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES . . . (2007)


. . . BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD. Heck, even the title’s too long! The umpteenth Jesse James bio-pic takes a painterly & poetic approach to its well-trod themes of lawlessness, psychosis, fraternal loyalty and hero worship. WATCH: as megger Andrew Dominik, in his sophomore outing, drowns the film with majestic landscapes, glowering clouds, fish-eye distortion and a whole pantry of cinematographic overkill from lenser Roger Deakins; LISTEN: as he holds raptly still while painfully micro-managing his terse dialog; GROAN: as he adds a patina of solemnity with wistfully ripe narration right out of a Ken Burns documentary. There’s something terribly depressing in watching a promising newbie like Dominik fall into so much self-indulgence & unearned hollow grandeur, as if Michael Cimino had gotten another shot at the big time. Please, someone, stop this talented man before he destroys himself. Fortunately, the acting choices are not without interest. As the weasely lout who initially worships Jesse James, Casey Affleck affects the raspy, unsettled voice of adolescent sexual confusion. Brad Pitt relaxes into his Jesse James, using his typical self-regarding manner as a key to every personality trait. And if they can’t quite find the depth or variation to withstand Dominik’s extended running-time, leave that to the always amazing Sam Rockwell who, as older brother Charley Ford, shows how it can be done.

NOTE: The poster seen here is from 1927, 80 years before this film, and shows how malleable the idea of Jesse James has been since Fred Thompson was a cowboy star (and husband to the legendary Hollywood scripter Frances Marion) who only played decent men who could serve as role-models for the youth of America.

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