On Monday night I headed over to the Warner Brothers screening studio on West 53rd Street with a coterie of fellow magazine staffers to attend a screening of the new Brad Pitt movie The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. It was long, as many of Brad's movies are wont to be (see sidebar below), but it was also pretty good.
Brad Pitt (or Dad Pitt, as our staffers call him) plays Jesse James, an American train and bank robber in the mid-to-late 1800s. The film opens in the 1880s as Jesse's career as master robber is coming to an end and an increasingly paranoid Jesse begins killing members of his old crew, erasing information that could lead to his capture. (Brad seems to enjoy playing crazy or unbalanced on screen—as does Angelina—and he gets to do it again here.)
The movie title gives away the basics: Jesse James, American folklore pseudo-hero, is assassinated by Robert Ford (Casey Affleck). The how and why, and the aftermath of the assassination, keep eyes glued to the screen. And, in particular, it's Ben Affleck's little brother, Casey, who steals most of the show as Robert Ford.
While Brad contents himself with his usual schtick, acting mostly with the posturing and positioning of his mouth and tongue, and the occasional inverted furrowing of eyebrows. Brad is fun watch, partly because of his beauty, and the role is one of his better performances. But it's Casey who sizzles on screen. He's creepy, he's conniving, and yet somehow likable and sympathetic. It's a performance the likes of which his brother has never delivered (or had the chance to).
Alas, the wildly talented Mary-Louise Parker, cast as Jesse's wife, is woefully underused. Her scenes must have been filmed in two or three days, and she has nothing to do except work in the kitchen and then cry (though wonderfully) near the end.
Political consultant and commentator James Carville makes a cameo in the film as the governor of Mississippi, which is at first distracting, but less troubling when Carville proves he's a capable enough actor. Carville's appearance, though, like the omniscient narration that laces through the film, pulls the viewer out of the trance that movies are supposed to induce and reminds us that we're watching a movie, which is annoying.
Perhaps what's most surprising, and what most people probably know the least about, is what happens after the assassination. Casey gets the screen to himself after Jesse's death, and as usual here, he shines.
Jesse James, already getting a warm reception from critics, opens tomorrow.
Famous For His Length
Brad Pitt Likes To Make Lengthy Movies
Just as Brad Pitt isn't shy about playing crazy or unbalanced, he also isn't shy about making films that last longer—sometimes up to fifty percent longer—than the usual two-hour running time of most Hollywood films. Here's a look Brad's half-dozen longest films.
Fifth Place (tie): Fight Club | 2h 19m
The film adaption of the Chuck Palahniuk novel has become a cult classic and set itself into a venerated class of movies with twists like The Matrix and Memento. With Brad as the devilish, virile, sexy id Tyler Durden, the film is great, but the ending still lags.
Fifth Place (tie): Seven Years In Tibet | 2h 19m
The film, with Brad Pitt as an Austrian mountain climber who befriends the Dalai Lama, is visually beautiful (as is Pitt), but it dragged (you can call it "meditative" if you want) and felt longer than its already longer-than-normal running time.
Fourth Place: Babel | 2h 23m
Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu's muli-story tie-together co-starred Brad Pitt as Cate Blanchett's husband on a vacation gone very wrong. It was long, but it was good.
Third Place: Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford | 2h 40m
Review above. It's long, but goes by relatively quickly. One of Brad's better performances.
Second Place: Troy | 2h 43m
Not very good and mostly unloved by critics and audiences alike. Brad's physique, however, makes this movie almost worth sitting through (along with Eric Bana's pec deck).
First Place: Meet Joe Black | 2h 58m
Brad Pitt plays death, but death has never looked so amazing in a tuxedo or a poolside love scene (with Claire Forlani). Still, Brad's longest movie wasn't a critical or box office success.
Claire Danes walking toward American Airlines Theater on 43rd Street near 8th Avenue, where she will soon be performing for ten weeks in Pygmalion, the predecessor to My Fair Lady. Claire wore businessy clothes and was fidgeting with her hair and looking up at a poster of herself as I walked past. The cleft in her chin is more pronounced in person than it is on film. All said, girlfriend looked good.
By now you're probably familiar with Britney's new single, "Gimme More." But which version do you like better: Brit's, or Nick Connell's (below)? (And how much do we love that the kid can sing live and actually play an instrument?)
Then, of course, there's Chris Cocker's terrifying rendition of the song. Be warned.
Most terrifying of all, however, is MTV's The Hills star Heidi Montag "singing" her new single (!) at her own birthday party. The arm flailing is like a drunken Mariah and the lip-synching is worse than a coked up Britney. It's a train wreck straight out the gate.