Monday, February 25, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

DAN - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is the second film from New Zealand director Andrew Dominik. Robert Ford is a young amateur criminal who worships Jesse James, the most notorious outlaw of the nineteenth century. When he gets the opportunity to join James’ gang, Ford comes to know his idol on a personal level. This film chronicles Ford’s involvement in the final years of James’ life.

I make an effort to avoid spoiling plot points in my reviews, but this movie’s title sort of gives one away. Robert Ford assassinates Jesse James. Part of the film’s charm lies in the fact that the audience is aware of this fact. I personally found it enthralling to watch these characters interact, knowing that one would eventually kill the other.

Casey Affleck gives an intricate portrayal of a troubled Ford as he transforms throughout the film. Ford simultaneously admires, fears, and wants to destroy his hero. Affleck is able to convey these conflicting emotions in a palpable manner, and he seems to do so with ease. In fact, I cannot think of one performance in this film that is sub-par. The ensemble is fantastic.

The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is bittersweet. It sometimes comes across as a lullaby for Jesse James, which is both beautiful and strange. It is most effective during segments of narration by Hugh Ross, which are peculiarly mesmerizing in their composition.

My only negative critique is a minor one; this movie is long. Its runtime is 160 minutes, but the slow plot makes it seem even longer. However, each individual scene is a work of art, aided immensely by Roger Deakins, whose cinematography is innovative and captivating. If your attention span can handle it, this film is definitely worth watching.


STEVE - Brad Pitt stars as the outlaw Jesse James in the indie western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The film which is almost as long as its title, being that it clocks in just under three hours is about two separate men; the first man being the criminal Jesse James, who through crime and murder has achieved fame and novelty and has become an American icon. The other man is the coward Robert Ford, who wants have the fame and fortune that Jesse has, but even more prominently, to be Jesse James.

We obviously know from the title of the film that Jesse James will indeed die. So it’s no shock to the audience when the coward Robert Ford assassinates the famous outlaw. However, it’s the trip we take as a viewer, into the minds of these two characters, that really makes the climax of the film all that more consequential.

Something absolutely terrific that this movie does so very well that you don’t usually find in other works of film, is deep, deep, deep character development. This film takes you into the depths of these two men’s souls. We know what there thinking, why there thinking it, and why in the end, Robert Ford does what he does.

Because of how much time and energy is spent delving into the characters of the story we are left with a long run time. But it’s worth it, it’s so very much worth it. Terrific performances by the whole cast including my new favorite actor Casey Affleck, beautiful cinematography, excellent directing and wonderful execution. This movie comes highly recommended.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Gone Baby Gone

DAN - Gone Baby Gone comes as the directorial debut of actor Ben Affleck. Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, the film follows a private investigator and his girlfriend when they are hired to find Amanda, a little girl who was recently abducted. Time is of the essence and the odds are against them as the pair searches through the underbelly of Boston.

The quality of Ben Affleck’s acting may be debatable, but I was intrigued by the thought of him as a director. He’d proven his writing chops in Good Will Hunting, which he co-wrote with Matt Damon, but he hadn’t written anything of note since then. Though it may not be entirely revolutionary, Gone Baby Gone is a good film.

The film stars Affleck’s younger brother, Casey, who delivers a strong performance. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on his career in the coming years.

The film’s score is subtle, yet effective. I was excited when I saw Harry Gregson-Williams’ name in the opening titles; he has composed some strong soundtracks in the past, and this is no exception.

The plot features several thrilling moments and unexpected twists. They work for the most part, though some might be perceived as a little too conventional. There is a particularly memorable scene near the end of the film that begs the question: must we obey the law if we are morally compelled to do otherwise? The arguments are convincing, and I found myself debating the alternatives in my mind for the rest of the night.

Gone Baby Gone is a thought provoking film akin to Mystic River, which was based on a book by the same author. If you like that film or are in the mood for a good mystery, check this one out.


STEVE - Ben Affleck’s directorial debut is an excellent example of superb execution. The actor and Academy Award winning writer pens another great script along with new screenwriting partner Aaron Stockard and creates a haunting and very real portrait of modern day life in the movie Gone Baby Gone.

Baby brother Casey Affleck stars for older brother as the tough P.I. Patrick Kenzie. Kenzie along with lover and partner Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are asked to solve a missing child case. Reluctant at first, both agree to the case after meeting mother Helene McCready portrayed by Amy Ryan. The two begin a long a desperate search for the child and along the way uncover secrets and hidden agendas that blend the line between right and wrong, and neither can agree what to do with the knowledge they have learned.

Gone Baby Gone is a powerful film that treads the lines from corruption, to domestic abuse, to good intentions gone wrong. Big brother Affleck drives his film forward giving powerful meanings to his messages through the use of his only weapon at hand… his camera.

As far as performances go, little brother Affleck and the rest of the ensemble consisting of Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Michelle Monaghan, and others perform considerably well under the older Affleck’s direction. Amy Ryan, in particular, turns in one of the best performances I’ve seen this year in a very impressive fashion. I can almost guarantee that you will find no other character to hate more than that of Ryan’s character of Helene McCready this year.

Gone Baby Gone recently arrived on DVD about a week ago and it’s one that you’re going to want to pick up at your local blockbuster. However be warned, this isn’t a feel good movie, but it is a great one.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Michael Clayton

DAN - Michael Clayton is a legal thriller from the mind of Tony Gilroy, writer of such films as the Bourne trilogy. Having been nominated for seven Oscars, the film was recently re-released in theaters. The title character, played by George Clooney, is an attorney who fixes situations that might damage his law firm. When one of his biggest clients seems to inexplicably lose his mind, Clayton searches for an answer. Unfortunately, there are other parties who would prefer that he doesn’t succeed.

I had fairly high hopes for this film, though I didn’t exactly know what to expect. Tony Gilroy had written some decent films in the past, but this was his first attempt at directing. I’m sure this film was a clever, tension-building tour de force, but to be honest, I had trouble keeping up with it.

The screenplay is choc full of legal terms and political dialogue that flew over my head. I was able to get the gist of the story, but the characters’ motives were lost in the details. I found myself trying so hard to understand the plot that I must have missed a few character introductions. The film features several scenes with Clayton’s siblings and his son, but I didn’t learn of his relation to them until after the movie ended.

The cinematography and musical score are somewhat bleak, creating a level of semi-realism that didn’t keep my interest. Even the acting is mostly low key, though Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton individually have some good scenes.

This is a film that requires intelligence and attention, but I didn’t find it worth the effort. I suppose it’s commendable that the director chose to take a non-blockbuster approach in making this film, but the result wasn’t entirely entertaining for me. However, if you like political thrillers (Syriana, The Constant Gardener), then this one is right up your alley.


STEVE - Being one of the five Oscar nominees for best picture and in the running for six others including a best actor, best supporting actor, and best supporting actress, I was very interested in seeing this work of cinema. It’s not every day that you find a movie up for seven Oscars, three of which are for performances, for which reason, I recommend this film to the viewer.

Best actor nominee George Clooney leads this terrific cast of performers as the “miracle worker” Michael Clayton. Though he prefers to think of himself to be more like a janitor, Clooney’s character is a lawyer who cleans up others messes, and does it very well. It’s the different layers that Clooney brings to the character that holds my interest throughout this film. Every time the man walks on screen he demands your attention in the most subtle of ways, and it’s when Clooney is acting with eleven year-old Austin Williams that he truly shines and we see the human side of Michael Clayton.

Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton also turn in memorable performances as they are up for the other two acting nominations. Also noteworthy of mention is already Oscar winner Sydney Pollack who gives a great performance as well and plays the role of Clooney’s superior.

Michael Clayton truly thrives in its performances; with a different cast I’m not sure the film would have been as well received. Though the script is also the cause for one of its many nominations, I wasn’t all to crazy about it. We really aren’t treading any new territory with this film as the story of loft business corruption has been done before. You are sufficiently lost for the fist third of the film, trying to piece together what exactly went wrong. If not for the well executed direction from scribe and director Tony Gilroy, and the many wonderful performances Michael Clayton could have been a very unnoticeable film.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood, the newest film from acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson, tells the story of a self-made oil baron in California at the dawn of the 20th century. He and his young son, who acts as his business partner, find a small town that sits above an underground “ocean of oil.” The only thing that stands in their way is a young, strong-willed priest who has aspirations of his own.

- A year ago I took a theater class here called Auditioning. Essentially it was about the process of auditioning (for stage or screen) and becoming better at that process, hence the name of the class. One thing that I remember talking about in that class is something our professor called the ultimate compliment. You see, when a performer gives a performance for an instructor or fellow peer, and that instructor or peer gives the performer no comment or instruction afterward, then that performer knows that they have just received the ultimate compliment. It sounds strange, but for a peer or instructor to say nothing means that they found nothing wrong with the performer’s performance. The instructor has nothing left to teach and the peer nothing left to say. The performer did a perfect job. Such a comment is rare, and is the greatest comment that a performer could receive. I myself have never received such comment and I am only aware of one other person who has. It is the highest praise given only to performances of the highest caliber.

There Will Be Blood pulls this same speechless response out of me. I honestly don’t know what to write because I feel like nothing needs to be said other than for me to tell the reader of this article to go see this movie, because you are in for a treat. Although I am speechless (in a manner of speaking) allow me to list some of the reasons why you need to go see this movie.

The direction and visual structure of this film is a work of art, the likes of which are rarely seen. The music only serves to drive the audience deeper into the intoxicating world of our protagonist, hero, and villain Daniel Plainview. While such a deep and multilayered character would sound hard to portray, actor Daniel Day Lewis successfully represents Plainview by giving the most stimulating and flawless performance of a lifetime. Writer and Director Paul Thomas Anderson could not have created a better vehicle for Oscar buzz, being that it has already been nominated for eight of them.

Please, ladies and gentlemen of this supposed college, go see this powerful character driven drama. Not only will you leave second guessing your humanity but you will indeed understand why, in the end, there will be blood.


DAN - Having read the introduction in Steve’s review, I’m tempted to simply say “no comment” in regards to There Will Be Blood. However, I think some things deserve to be noted.

Director P.T. Anderson consistently makes great movies. He is an expert storyteller, and he knows how to create complex characters. I had high expectations for this film, and they were met. Perhaps they were even surpassed.

A good portion of the movie’s introduction is without any dialogue. It takes talent to pull this off as effectively as Anderson does, and Daniel Day-Lewis is equally gifted in acting physically.

In fact, Day-Lewis is nearly unrecognizable, yet forever memorable, in his role as a fully determined businessman. His performance in this film captured my interest, and I’m currently in the process of watching his previous films. He seems to fully delve into his characters, and the result is captivating.

The musical score for this film is a thing of beauty, ranging from melodious orchestrations to shrill discordance. Surprisingly, it was composed by Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead; I would not expect the guitarist of such a band to compose such an extensive score. The music vividly paints an image of balanced madness that follows the character of Daniel Plainview.

There Will Be Blood is a work of art in every way.