Monday, March 17, 2008

Onward to the Anti-West!

Strange as it was, somehow the fall of 2007 movie season brought on not one, but two heel-kickin’ westerns, the thoroughly disparate 3:10 to Yuma (well done and traditional) and this adaptation of Ron Hansen’s overtly literary novel, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Warners, 160 minutes, $27.98), a true blue anti-western. Writer/director Andrew Dominik doesn’t venture as far off the range as say Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, but his take on the myth of Jesse James is virtually devoid of gunplay, and as full of looming and desolate spaces, slow camera movements, meaningful close-ups and even an oh-so-literary voice-over narration. Like Robert Altman’s vastly underrated Buffalo Bill and the Indians the movie focuses squarely on the myth-making machinery of the Wild West, and it does so without the comic ironies and overt satire of that film. Brad Pitt is the charismatic Jesse, all instinct and guile, and possibly a psychopath, while Casey Affleck is the hero worshipping gang member who does him in, and suffers the subsequent consequences of weird infamy. Pitt does a solid, even subtle riff as the outlaw, but the movie belongs to Affleck, virtually whispering and mumbling his way through a complex and affecting performance.

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