Wild about this west­ern

Brad Pitt gives a ca­reer-best per­for­mance as out­law Jesse James in a com­pelling ex­am­ple of the cow­boy genre

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS - THE AS­SAS­SI­NA­TION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (15)

SINCE THE ti­tle of this mes­meris­ing West­ern epic gives away the nar­ra­tive arc, di­rec­tor Andrew Dominik was clearly more con­cerned to cre­ate a story driven by char­ac­ter rather than by tra­di­tional genre gun­play.

Not that Dominik, who also vividly adapts the novel by Ron Hansen for the screen, stints on ac­tion. His stag­ing of a spec­tac­u­lar train rob­bery is as ex­cit­ing as any I have seen. But his par­tic­u­lar achieve­ment is the cre­ation of the two key pro­tag­o­nists — Brad Pitt’s award-wor­thy Jesse James and, equally im­pres­sively, a ca­reer-mak­ing por­trait of Ford by Casey Af­fleck.

In 1881, James was 34 and al­ready a leg­end, hav­ing achieved gen­uine celebrity through sen­sa­tion­al­ist news­pa­per re­ports and dime nov­els that charted the James’s Gang 14-year-long crime spree. Af­ter the fi­nal night time train rob­bery, Jesse’s brother Frank van­ishes, leav­ing Jesse to quit, change his name, and go and live with his wife and chil­dren. But his fate was al­ready sealed. Creepy 19-year-old Ford, who had told Jesse: “I hon­estly be­lieve I’m des­tined for great things” had al­ready in­sin­u­ated him­self into the out­laws’ in­ner cir­cle. He in­sisted on ac­com­pa­ny­ing Jesse on his ‘re­tire­ment’ and, de­spite — or per­haps be­cause of taunts like “You want to be like me, or do you want to be me?” — he fi­nally shot his ‘friend’ in the back.

Iron­i­cally, Ford briefly achieved his am­bi­tion and be­came a leg­end of sorts. Fo­cus­ing on this as­pect of Ford ca­reer al­lows the film to ex­am­ine the na­ture of celebrity, which, of course, gives it con­tem­po­rary rel­e­vance.

Pitt’s con­sid­er­able charisma makes Jesse’s enor­mous ap­peal ab­so­lutely cred­i­ble, while still mak­ing him an in­tro­spec­tive and un­pre­dictable per­son. It is his finest per­for­mance.

Af­fleck, too, is a reve­la­tion as the ma­nip­u­la­tive, treach­er­ous Ford. And while Dominik, su­perbly abet­ted by Roger Deakin’s at­mo­spheric lo­ca­tion cin­e­matog­ra­phy takes his time to tell the story, his film more than earns its run­ning time

THE MAGIC FLUTE

(PG)

OPERA PURISTS may balk at Ken- neth Branagh’s re­work­ing of Mozart’s 1791 opera, in which he trans­poses the ac­tion to a World War One bat­tle­field and a fairy­tale fan­tasy land. There are times when Stephen Fry’s English-lan­guage li­bretto grates through sheer in­ap­pro­pri­ate­ness, but, by and large, it works pretty well. The singing is fine, the film, beau­ti­fully pho­tographed by Roger Lanser, looks stun­ning and Branagh’s cin­e­matic eye rarely lets him down.

FRED CLAUS

(PG)

DI­REC­TOR LARRY Dobkin de­ploys Dan Fo­gel­man’s ami­able if un­chal­leng­ing screen­play in an­other riff on the “man-meets-Santa” with this sea­sonal saga of sib­ling ri­valry. Vince Vaughan is the epony­mous Fred, who, es­tranged from his younger brother Nick (Paul Gia­matti), aka Santa Claus, ends up in jail. Nick bails him out on the con­di­tion that the repro­bate comes to work in Santa’s work­shop.

And af­ter var­i­ous set­backs — no­tably Kevin Spacey em­bar­rass­ing him­self and us as a steely time-and mo­tion ex­pert de­ter­mined to close down Santa’s op­er­a­tion — it all ends with the ex­pected happy end­ing.

Un­de­mand­ing young­sters should be suit­ably amused while par­ents are en­joy­ably catered for by a “Sib­lings Anony­mous” meet­ing in which Roger Clin­ton, Stephen Bald­win and Frank Stal­lone moan about be­ing up­staged by their more fa­mous brothers.

HIT­MAN

(15)

AN­OTHER VIDEOGAME is made cel­lu­loid as Ti­mothy Olyphant’s ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered as­sas­sin Agent 47 is as­signed to mur­der a can­di­date for the Rus­sian pres­i­dency. He ap­par­ently hits the tar­get, but finds him­self em­broiled in an in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous stew of mur­der, treach­ery ac­com­pa­nied by the in­evitable fe­male, played with min­i­mum cloth­ing and not a great deal more tal­ent by Olga Kurylenko.

It is hard at times to fol­low, but since the film’s sole pur­pose is ac­tion, it does not re­ally mat­ter. If you are in the mood for sav­age shootouts, punch-ups and other sim­i­lar dis­plays of mind­less machismo, Hit­man hits the spot.

Brad Pitt has more than one snake in the grass to deal with in the mem­o­rable The As­sas­si­na­tion of Jesse James

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