Movies opening this weekend
Brad Pitt stars as Jesse James, one legendarily famous person playing another. That’s a rare injection of reality in this otherwise otherworldly production.
It’s set during the late 1800s in Missouri, at the end of James’ storied criminal career and during the final year of his life before he was shot to death by a member of his gang. A Western in aesthetics only and steeped in period detail, it’s really more of a steadily percolating psychological thriller, a study of obsession and paranoia.
But it has a dreamlike quality that lifts it from the trappings of time, place and genre, an impressionistic flow reminiscent of the best of Terrence Malick. Some will call Andrew Dominik’s film slow, overlong, draggy, even self-indulgent. “Languid” and “hypnotic” might be more felicitous words, but it’s true, “Jesse James” could have been stronger if it had been a half-hour shorter.
Still, it features some moments of tantalizing suspense, as well as riveting performances from Pitt and Casey Affleck as the killer, Ford. Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, Sam Shepard and James Carville compose the well-chosen supporting cast.
Just as much a star is the great Roger Deakins, the longtime Coen brothers cinematographer who also recently shot “In the Valley of Elah” and who bathes “Jesse James” in a warm, soft sense of melancholy. R for strong violence and brief sexual references. 160 min. Three stars out of four.
It may seem hard to remember these days and even harder to believe, but there was a time when the United States seemed united in the spirit of a common goal: rocketing to the moon in 1969.
Director David Sington’s documentary vividly captures that sense of innocent enthusiasm, an almost tingly feeling of optimism. The film features all-new interviews with the astronauts themselves, still bright and viable after all these years and full of descriptive stories to tell, as well as never-before-seen footage accompanied by Philip Sheppard’s wondrously uplifting score.
These guys are so funny, self-effacing and sometimes even vulnerable, they make you wish you could spend more time listening to them talk. Among the 10 men we hear from, Mike Collins (Apollo 11) says with charming simplicity, “Yeah, it was hard to believe I was actually up there.”
Meanwhile, Charlie Duke (Apollo 16) adds with a twang: “My son, Tom, was 5 and he didn’t think it was any big deal.” PG for mild language, brief violent images and incidental smoking. 100 min. Three and a half stars out of four.
You probably don’t know the name Emile Hirsch. Not yet at least. He’s a young, good-looking, up-and-coming actor who’s been working steadily for the past few years ” he was the guy who lusted after Elisha Cuthbert in “The Girl Next Door,” maybe that’ll ring a bell.
All that should change, however, with “Into the Wild,” and deservedly so. Hirsch gives an absolute tour de force as the doomed Christopher McCandless, whose restless wanderings in search of nature, beauty and truth left him dead in Alaska, starved and alone, at 24.
In adapting Jon Krakauer’s 1998 best-seller of the same name, writer-director Sean Penn gives him a wealth of material to work with. Hirsch gets to be charming, passionate and idealistic but also impetuous, stubborn and self-righteous.
Penn depicts this flawed figure with all the richness and complexity you’d find in the unforgiving Alaskan terrain, presenting McCandless in both his selflessness and selfishness without once judging him or turning him into a martyr. At the same time, there’s an innocence to “Into the Wild,” with its notions about the purity of freedom, that harkens to films of the late 1960s like “Easy Rider.”
Penn, working with cinematographer Eric Gautier (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) and sometimes shooting his own footage, captures the grit and grandeur of this nation so vividly, he almost makes you want to chuck it all, too, and head for the open road. Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener, Hal Holbrook and Marcia Gay Harden are among the strong supporting cast. R for language and some nudity. 150 min. Three and a half stars out of four.