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Saturday, 15 June 2013

Death Becomes Him

Rather grim and joyless tale from writer / director Andrew Dominik, starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck. There are powerful performances from the leads and a talented cast of players, but the real star is Roger Deakins' cinematography, and it is just as well that the film looks and sounds beautiful, because there is little to admire in any of the characters, despite what are clearly skilled performances. No doubt, this can be considered a suitably accurate portrayal, but does it make for rewarding viewing and a positive audience reaction? Setting aside the ability of Hollywood to repeatedly cast gangsters as colourful rogues, or at best, misunderstood or conflicted, rather than the killers and thieves that they are, there is still no-one here to root for, so when this or that character meets his end from time to time, don't be surprised to feel little but an abstract curiosity about the mechanics.

As the film rolls on into another hour, even Mr. Deakins' beautiful pictures lose their ability to redeem the unrelieved uniformity of the pacing, and when there is an injection of tension at the promised conclusion, the discovery that this was not the end, but only an end was, for me, a disappointment. It is easy to admire style, but for true enjoyment, there must be substance, conflict, emotion. Where these are attempted by this story, it usually misses the target, and the surfeit of moodiness and brooding disquiet becomes wearing after a while.

The script is unremarkable, and few of the cast are given much to do beyond spitting out some western stereotypes in a studied drawl. In the end, it seems reasonable that we take from the piece that the old west was a cruel and dangerous place, with more than its fare share of cruel, dangerous and greedy individuals, unwilling to make their way in the world through honest toil, and unwilling to respect the lives and property of others, but watching them kill each other for 160 minutes, no matter how beautifully filmed, is not an edifying experience.

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