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Oscar Watch: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

By admin Published: February 11, 2008

(Photo from Variety)

Overview: Two nominations, for cinematography and for best supporting actor (Casey Affleck as Robert Ford).

In my last post, I mentioned the tough luck Tommy Lee Jones has had when it comes to the Oscars. It could also be a tough year for Casey Affleck, who will have to crawl over the scary frame of Javier Bardem to get an award.

But, as with Jones, I wouldn't mind if he did. ...

I should mention that I watched "Jesse James" on DVD, and not all in one sitting. I concede that because much criticism has been leveled at its length (2 hours, 40 minutes). With the watching spread out the way I did it, the length does not seem as onerous, and the rich visual details can be lingered over, the nuances of the performances by Affleck and Brad Pitt (as Jesse James) appreciated without a lot of watch-checking. Not all of it is that good -- the tone of Sam Rockwell's performance really throws me -- but there are plenty of positive things about it.

And before I get to Affleck, I have to say that Pitt is as good as I have ever seen him, making use of the cool screen-idol image but giving it layers of weariness and near-madness. He's sort of like Gregory Peck in "The Gunfighter" if you stripped away all the preachiness. Very good, and good overall.

But Affleck is the revelation, especially when I consider his much blander performance in "Gone Baby Gone." If we're being realistic, he is also the movie's lead, regardless of what Pitt's status or the motion picture academy indicates. It is his obsession with celebrity, James' and his own, that drives the movie. In the end, it is what happens to Ford after he gains his fame that gives the movie its enduring impact.

That, and it looks great, of course.

Never fear, I think Bardem was marvelous in "No Country for Old Men," too. So was Hal Holbrook in "Into the Wild." This is a tough category. But Affleck deserves to be standing smack in the middle of it; he's not just some also-ran filling a space.

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