Wednesday, November 7

A Review Of "Jesse James" By The Coward Baby Ruthless

Some quick thoughts on The Assassination Of Jesse James, which I saw last week and didn't really have a lot to say about. Yeah, I saw four movies last week. (Yet I still didn't get to Lars And The Real Girl. I guess I've passed over fat Ryan Gosling for my new love, Casey Affleck.)

-The movie is saddled with a weird contemporary (as in, from 2007) narration, who provides unnecessary historical background and occasionally describes what we're already seeing on the screen. I'm gonna have to assume that this was studio-mandated during the film's long and troubled post-production, because it makes the film seem like the most lavish History Channel special ever made.

-Sam Rockwell is all but unrecognizable as a thick-headed toadie. His character turns really affecting late in the movie, and there's an utterly mesmerizing scene where, playing Jesse James on vaudeville, he slowly morphs into Brad Pitt's laconic James.

-Weird casting. (If Sam Rockwell is in your movie, "weird casting" is pretty much a given, right?) And not the expected left-field cameos, either, I mean real head-scratching decisions. I'm talking James Carville as the governor--which caused audible laughter among the Louisianians watching the movie with me--and an utterly WTF cameo from Nick Cave, playing pretty much the same role ZZ Top played in Back To The Future III.

-Anthony Lane: "It is no mean feat to make a boring film about Jesse James, but Andrew Dominik has pulled it off in style..."

-Casey Affleck gave such an amazing and subtle performance I can barely even describe it. He has this way of hooding his eyes and looking off to the left whenever someone doesn't appreciate him for who he thinks he is. If I don't talk that much about it, it's only because it's hard to really talk about. The movie is definitely worth seeing just for Affleck alone.

-"The role of Ford eventually was between Casey Affleck and Shia LaBeouf; Affleck was cast because it was felt that LaBeouf was too young."

-Brad Pitt is also great. He plays James as a sort of cunning shit-kicker right out of a Tom Petty song, apparently basing his portrayal of James on our collective uncles circa 1985. There's something that feels utterly RIGHT about this decision.

What's really genius about this--and, uh, I do sorta think Pitt is occasionally some kind of genius--is that we hardly ever see this side of him, as Jesse is smart enough to hide behind a moody quiet that everyone--most of all Robert Ford--misinterprets as dignified intelligence.

The easy decision would have been to portray James as the sort of "stoic philospher with a six shooter" we saw in all the boring 70s revisionist Western. It's much more interesting to see this, where he plays quiet and reserved as a survival instinct, to mask his inner violent nature.

-This is also the first Western I've seen that stays really true to the upbringing the characters would have had. These are low-brow, brutally unsentimental country folk. As much as I love Deadwood, there's none of the psuedo-Shakespearian dialogue, and Jesse James is no Al Swearingen. For a lot of the film, I felt like I was back up at the fishing camp with my dad's side of the family again.

-This isn't in the movie, but Jesse James’s epitaph, selected by his mother, reads: In Loving Memory of my Beloved Son, Murdered by a Traitor and Coward Whose Name is not Worthy to Appear Here.

-I guess these thoughts weren't so quick after all. In the end, I think I'd have to see the movie again to make up my mind about it, but I know that's never going to happen.

Ultimately, it was one of those movies I see a few times a year, where the whole time I'm watching it, I'm thinking it's one of greatest films I've ever seen. And then the second the credits start, that feeling rapidly fades away. A week later, I can barely remember having seen it. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.