Once again, an upcoming longish movie with a moody, curiously textured canvas that’s trying to deliver something other than the usual boilerplate ingredients (in this case something Malicky or Peckinpah-ish or Leone-like, or perhaps all three) is being punished for this commercial transgression while studio execs are stalling the release while they work on pressuring the filmmaker(s) to trim scenes and/or otherwise give it a significant re-think.
The offender (and I realize I’m already sounding redundant, given the two recent items posted over the last few days) is Andrew Dominik‘s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
Of the two AICN reviews posted earlier today, both say the film is too long or it’s in trouble because of this. Okay, so length is an issue. But why is a film that was originally going to be released two months ago sitting in release-date limbo if the ony thing at stake is the running time? It takes months and months to work out the problems? Since when?
These AICN reactions don’t make it sound as if the film is in deep trouble — they make it sound like it probably won’t sell a lot of tickets and that Jeff Robinov and other Warner Bros. execs are fretting about a potential commercial bomb and that they’re doing what all studio executives do what they have an ambitious problem movie (like Columbia did last year with All The King’s Men) — delaying the release date and postponing the inevitable.
“This is not your average western,” one AICN guy said. “This film is very dark with Brad Pitt playing his darkest character since [the killer in] Kalifornia. Brad Pitt doesn”t use a lot of words in his performance, it’s all looks and internal turmoil, he is truly mesmerizing in this performance, showing a more mature actor then we have seen before.
“He is matched perfectly by Casey Affleck who is finally used to his full potential as Robert Ford. Affleck plays him as a very vulnerable, fragile young man with a thirst for recognition. Hopefully this performance might break Casey out of his brother”s shadow. The rest of the cast is superb with a funny and odd performance by Sam Rockwell.
“The cinematography is excellent. Roger Deakins turns in some of the best work of his career. He brings a dream-like quality to the images that gives the film a fable-like quality. It”s this quality that separates this film from [many] other westerns [and gives it similarities to] Sam Peckinpah”s under-rated “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.” It has to do with living up to ones own myth and also how far a person will go to be famous.
“But I see one serious problem with this film. A major studio made it. This isn”t a film for everyone. It isn’t “Tombstone or any kind of action-packed western. It”s a very emotional film. The action that does happen is quick and realistic much like a Sergio Leone film. This is a film for my father, a person who grew up on westerns and loves them. It has more in common with art-house [fare] and this might make it a tough sell for the studio.
“Another problem is that the version I saw the other night Is easily three hours in length. That can make any studio nervous and I”m afraid the studio will start cutting the film up in hopes of getting a bigger audience. This film needs the three hours, much like Sergio Leone”s westerns (which were notoriously edited by the studios) this film is about anticipation and scope. I wouldn”t be surprised if they cut this film up but I beg the studio not to.
“Basically I hope everyone gets to see this film in its current cut. This is the kind of film that will probably be passed over in theatres but will get a lot of reconsideration over time and will one day be seen as the truly great film [that] it is.”
The other guy says that “at two hours and 50 minutes, it’s just too damn long.
“The first act of the film does a wonderful job introducing us to Jesse James with voice over, abstract shots, and beautiful scenery, something out of a Terrence Malick film. We are introduced to Jesse and his gang as they complete one of their last train robberies, a sequence that works very well.
“Then the film crawls into the second act and keeps crawling for way too long. The dynamic between James and Ford, played wonderfully by Casey Affleck, is interesting and sets up some very nice sequences in the film. But the film strays too much from the identity crisis of Ford and the career crisis of James and meanders through beautiful scenery and locations, picking up bit characters and abstract storylines, as we wait for the main story to get back on track.
“The assassination is a fantastic sequence [but] the aftermath sort of drags, but it’s such a relief to actually have some story elements working [and thus] the minor flaws of the third act are ignored.
“The film is very character-driven by James and Ford with the last frame of the film a wonderful portrait of a man who has reached the end of his path [and is]still searching for identity and meaning behind it all.
“The film looks amazing and the performances are there, if they shave a good 50 minutes off the film the pacing would work better [and keep] the story moving. I can’t say I recommend the film as it is. I hope they cut it down before it’s released.”