Wild about this western
Brad Pitt gives a career-best performance as outlaw Jesse James in a compelling example of the cowboy genre
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
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.
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.
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