Sunday, 31 May 2015

Alternate Best Actor 2007: Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford

Brad Pitt did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jesse James in The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford.

I have to admit the first time I watched this film I was unsure about Brad Pitt in the role of the marked with death by title. I could not help but feel Viggo Mortensen was clearly the right choice for the part just look at the real photographs of the man to see why. Pitt's casting though does offer something that Viggo Mortensen does not have, for whatever reason, which is star power. Star power seems like an odd thing to factor in a film like this, or in a character driven performance like this. It does matter here in a most intriguing fashion. Brad Pitt plays the legendary Jesse James and the myth of the man is an essential facet of the film. Well in a way Pitt's a certified movie star sort in the way where it might difficult to precisely define what exactly creates the star quality which is also the case for the character of Jesse James. After all most of the public would not even see James, but some reason he's this larger than life figure that captivates the public's imagination despite being a criminal. Pitt's persona gives him quite the advantage here since James already is a star before we really even see him, since he's played by Brad Pitt.

Of course one should not act like it is too much of an intangible thing though since Pitt's work here goes beyond simply some intelligent casting. Pitt's performance also goes to make the legend himself. There are scenes that imagine the myth of Jesse particularly the opening scene where the narration describes Jesse as a figure of such magnitude. Pitt matches this in his manner that seems truly otherworldly as he looks into the sky as though he is above all of it. That scene is not seemingly within reality though but that is not the limit to Jesse as the figures of the dime novels, and the strange admiration of so many who hear about his exploits. The single robbery scene also seems to create this image as Jesse prepares to board the train, Pitt's movements are singular in the way every step again feels as though he is floating in the moment. It is an effortless quality that Pitt brings to Jesse when he does appear to be this figure. There are other moments throughout his performance where you see Pitt as this man. It is not overarching, he is not some demi-god or anything close to it, but Pitt allows that story to be told.

Jesse isn't quite that though as seen by one of the earliest scenes where Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) first comes to join the James gang in order to rob a train. Pitt's good in the scene because he does not make Jesse any sort of legend when he's shooting the breeze with his men, he's just a pretty normal fellow as he talks about nonsense with his men. There's even some warmth in this way as Pitt shows Jesse being someone who treats with his men, and there's a certain camaraderie. The camaraderie is not too strong though. There are also the mostly silent scenes where the film shows Jesse living with his family or interacting in the public with people other than members of his gang. Pitt is good in these scenes as he shows Jesse just as a fairly standard husband and father. Pitt plays it as though cares for his kids and his wife to be sure, but there is nothing notable about it, as though it is not enough to be content. This side of the man does not quite seem to break the image, rather just showing that there is more to him than that image, but that is not all there is to Jesse as seen through the train robbery. The robbery might begin in the fantasy of myth but it ends in reality.

Although the way he might board the train is that of the romantic hero, once he gets down to business Jesse is anything but. Even though he is mostly masked and we only see his eyes the real nature of Jesse is revealed by Pitt as he confronts the money man on the train. There is nothing pretty about what Pitt shows in this moment as he simply portrays a blunt brutality as Jesse beats down the men almost to death and is about to shoot him. There seems to be a bit of enjoyment in his eyes as he almost kills the man, and there's not a hint of remorse in his actions. It is perhaps Jesse at his most honest because Pitt puts such unnerving comfort into Jesse as he performs this violent act. With this Pitt shatters any idea that Jesse is far removed from the earth, rather he is much closer to a psychopathic thug. Any moment in which this side appears is quite chilling due to Pitt suggesting the ease Jesse has in this behavior as though it is truly him. Pitt is incredibly menacing in the role because he ensures that we keep this side of the man in mind. This acts especially effective in the scenes where Jesse interrogates some of his men. Pitt almost seems to encourage calm as he portrays Jesse almost looking through the man, but the fear is real as his propensity for violence never leaves his eyes.

Pitt creates a particularly interesting chemistry with Affleck. Ford, even though he will be the one to kill James, Ford is obsessed with James. Pitt's excellent in his way with Affleck, as he's not the modest celebrity trying to avoid the fame, nor does he the type who has contempt for his fan. Pitt rather expresses something quite fascinating in his performance, and takes no option as a celebrity might treat a fan, because Jesse knows his own celebrity is in a way false, with the man so entranced by him though Jesse must directly face the idea of his own image. Pitt plays it as though Jesse is almost entranced by back whenever Ford elaborates on his views of Jesse. It is not that he is entranced by Ford, but rather Pitt shows Jesse as a normal being able to see himself as something he is not. Of course neither can be entranced for long because reality must set in, and when Ford treats Jesse as man, Jesse does the same for Ford, as Pitt brings an open disdain towards him whenever it is clear Ford sees Jesse for what he is. This leaves Jesse to only see Ford for what he is just another man who might lead to his eventual downfall, which seems to be the only thing that awaits Jesse.

A mostly unstated idea in the film is where Jesse is in this point in his life. These are not the days of his rough riding around the county as the train robbery is the last robbery for his more level headed brother Frank, who knows that their way of life cannot continue. Although it is not stated openly Pitt exudes a certain discontent in Jesse as though he is simply unable to live without being an outlaw. Again it is not something focused upon but Pitt conveys this intensity in James, a quiet paranoia in him, as though nothing is safe to Jesse. Even though we are not given much of the efforts of the authorities to finally take him down, Pitt actually is able to show this simply through his performance as Jesse becomes more withdrawn as though the world is closing in around him. Pitt presents Jesse as staring into the void as death is all that seems to await him, and Pitt is haunting as he portrays Jesse as a man who knows sentence has already has been passed he's just waiting for the executioner. There rarely a moment of comfort as Pitt only continues to grow this despair that Jesse wears within him, and only moments where this seems to break are the sporadic violent outbursts. Pitt brings a desperation even in these though as though his psychopathic tendencies, his ability to instill fear in others, is one of the few things that keeps him alive. The assassination itself is made surprisingly heartbreaking by Pitt because he does not have Jesse going out like a hero, really even like a villain, or even with an ounce of surprise, rather he sadly has Jesse accept his death as the only way for him to be put out of his life of misery. I do have to say I suppose that there are a few lines where Pitt has slightly off delivery which is often the case with his performances. That does not diminish the power of this performance as the impact of it has grown every time I've re-watched the film. It's tremendous work that deserves mention right alongside Affleck's masterful performance.

33 comments:

Psifonian said...

I have no hesitation in calling this Pitt's finest work.

Matt Mustin said...

Really need to re-watch this. He's great, from what I remember.

Michael McCarthy said...

Wow, you actually liked him more than Robert did.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

In regards to the Game of Thrones episode. Everything else was just fine in clearing building to their own season climaxes, although I'm not sure that even Tyrion can save Daenerys for me. In regards to the ending though just ......wow......wow.

Calvin Law said...

Oh wow not expecting that, at all. I need to rewatch this, quickly.

luke higham said...

This is the biggest surprise in quite awhile.

luke higham said...

Louis: Your Ratings & Thoughts on the rest of the cast, apart from Rockwell.

luke higham said...

Louis: Lastly, I'll say this again, please watch Walk Hard's Unrated Extended Cut.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

As impressive as he is, I actually think he's only the fourth best performance in the film. That's no insult though, because the entire cast sans Deschanel was totally on point.

luke higham said...

Can't believe, Brad Pitt has more 5s than Christian Bale.

Calvin Law said...

@Luke: Don't worry, I'm sure we all know deep down who's the better actor :D And to be fair, Bale has never had a rating lower than 2.5 so far as I'm aware, which cannot be said for Pitt.

luke higham said...

Calvin: I've got nothing against Pitt by any means and I like his work a great deal here, It's just that I never expected this to happen, since the alternates began. I assure you, that I have no bad feelings towards this, since any performance that gets a 5 from Louis, I'm happy, regardless of my personal opinion.

luke higham said...

Calvin: And Yes, Bale's the better actor by a pretty long distance.

Calvin Law said...

Luke: Odd thing is I can kinda see both of them playing some of the other's roles.

For example, a younger Pitt could have been a pretty good Batman, and I could see him doing quite well in Bale's roles in 3:10 to Yuma and Out of the Furnace.

On the other hand, Bale could've been an amazing Tyler Durden, I could definitely see him as Jesse James, he would've probably brought more to Benjamin Button and I think he would've been great in Fury.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I'd actually argue that Pitt has reached greater heights than Bale, because quite frankly few actors could bring the sort of complexity to a simple character like Mr. O'Brien in The Tree of Life.

luke higham said...

Calvin & Louis: Have you seen any new releases within the past 3 weeks.

In your opinions, what roles throughout cinematic history do you think Fassbender and Hardy would've fit perfectly in.

Koook160: Pitt was fantastic in The Tree Of Life, but on average, Bale is better in terms of consistency.

Anonymous said...

What are your ratings and thoughts on Tuesday Weld in Once Upon a Time in America?

Calvin Law said...

Luke: Nope, nothing seems to really tickle my fancy at the moment.

Hardy
Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront
Laughton's Henry VIII
Quint in Jaws
Alex Leamas in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Fassbender
Most of Peter O'Toole's work
Connery's Bond

luke higham said...

Calvin:
Tom Hardy in London Road.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=86&v=_HlidpOEUd8
What The Fuck!

Calvin Law said...

Luke: How have I not heard of this before...yeah, I think 'what the fuck' is just about the only response I can muster up, too.

luke higham said...

Calvin: Not that it matters much, but this better not be a misjudged career move.

Calvin Law said...

I don't know, this could go either way. The musical is highly acclaimed apparently and Hardy might be able to show another new side to his talents.

But I digress. Let's hope it's good!

luke higham said...

Calvin: Hopefully. :|

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Please come back. I miss having you around.

Anonymous said...

I don't know where he is lol, the last post was oddly, just before that jerk came on.

Calvin Law said...

RatedRStar, please come back, as Luke said we all miss your presence on the boards, don't mind that jerk if that's what was bothering you.

GM said...

I'm missing him already.

JackiBoyz said...

I am sure he will be back eventually, ya never know he might be ill or summat, or maybe he is upset, ya never know.

luke higham said...

I'd really start worrying if he doesn't post a comment on the results page.

Deiner said...

Great review Louis, I so love him here, such a great performance. Interestingly enough, when I first saw this film I only knew Pitt from his "movie star" films and was expecting some kind of bland acting. Thank God I was proven wrong. My favorite lead actor performance from this year though is from his co-star Casey Affleck. I found his performance hauntingly fascinating. By the way, have you seen Lars and the Real Girl? I'd like to read your thoughts on Ryan Gosling.

luke higham said...

Louis: Plus the rating for Gosling, that's if you've seen Lars And The Real Girl.

luke higham said...

Louis: Can I have more detailed thoughts on the last scene in 'Hardhome'.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Shepard - 3.5(Brings the hard edge you'd expect from a man like Frank James, and I liked how he played him as man without presumptions quite unlike Jesse. He only has a few scenes but he makes you understand his Frank James quite well, and even manages to reflect the sort of relationship the narration states between Jesse and Frank)

Renner - 3.5(A very good performance as one of the gang, and he manages to make Wood Hite more than a plot point for Affleck's Ford. He conveys the frustrations in each of his scenes, and manages to create his own little personal story within the grander scheme of the film)

Schneider - 3.5(He's great at being the constant charmer who obviously chases far too many women for his own good. Schneider does not keep him one note though and in turn is very good in creating his character's fear that compels him to also betray James. I particularly like his reactions in the scene where James psychotically interrogates the Ford cousin)

Dillahunt - 4.5(A great few scenes wonder. In his first scene it sets him up as the character often seen in westerns, being the simpleton part of a posse. Dillahunt gives so much humanity to this sort of character that he never feels like a caricature. Then when he's interrogated by James Dillahunt is absolutely heartbreaking as he shows his character's struggle to try to deal with his fear of merely speaking with the man. He's especially great in just his final moments as he shows Ed Miller quietly awaiting his murder)

Mary-Louise Parker, Ted Levine, Michael Parks, Alison Elliot, are also quite good in just there small roles. I don't even really mind Deschanel. It's a great ensemble.

In regards to Hardhome what's to say. That sequence was amazing. It was one of the most intense scenes from a tension filled show, and in this one scene finally realized truly the sense of dread that should be associated with the Walkers. It was a thrilling ending but also terrifying, especially just that quite but oh so horrifying final minute.

Anonymous:

Weld - 4(She's good in early scenes in playing the excessively lusty wannabe gun moll essentially. Her best scene though is her late scene with De Niro, as she somberly portrays what remains of such a woman when given the time to reflect on her life)

Deiner:

Haven't seen it.