Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Brad Pitt is no Jesse James

In true fashion of this blog, Melissa is clearly taking current issues that actually mean something to a large group of people. I, on the other hand, address matters that people could care less about. But they are irking me at the moment so that it is why I write posts that make little sense and when read, people usually think, "Um, what the hell?"

Yes. This is one such post. Reading the newest issues of magazine In Touch, on pages 54-55, in a photo spread titled "Do they look like the characters?", several photos of celebrities in their newest roles are placed next to the photographs of the real people they are portraying on screen. Kirsten Dunst will be playing Marie-Antoinette (Why?) and Sienna Miller will be Edie Sedgwick in the upcoming Factory Girl (believable). But the one that really ticked me off, the one that sent me into a rant that had my roommates both laughing and looking quite confused, was Brad Pitt as Jesse James.

Excuse me? What?

That's right. Brad Pitt, the 42-year-old actor aka Angelina Jolie's baby's daddy, will be playing Jesse James, infamous outlaw and bank/train robber, who was 34-years-old when he was murdered in 1882.

According to IMDB.com, the plot of Brad Pitt's newest piece of art, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, is this: Robert Ford joins Jesse James's gang, only to become resentful of the legendary outlaw and hatch a plan to kill the fastest gun in the West. At least they got the assassin's name correct in this one. I remember watching a really old black and white movie once on AMC and the guy's name was Robert Forn who shot Jesse. With my experience concerning Jesse James movies is that the writers usually just take the famous name, put a guy in a classic wild west environment and have him rob something. Writers seem to have very little time when it comes to actually researching the man. (American Outlaws starring Colin Farrell)

I'm babbling though as I tend to do. The movie is based off of a book so perhaps I should read that before judging this movie further. But I will continue to judge the casting of the lead role. Brad Pitt? Seriously? To me, this guy is a step above cardboard. Don't get me wrong. Brad is known to take roles that most wouldn't i.e. Fight Club, Snatch and I did enjoy Seven, Spy Game, and Rusty from Ocean's Eleven got a good laugh out of me. But for some to think that he is the best actor behind Tom Cruise (don't even get me started) clearly needs to go to the neighborhood Blockbuster and rent some classic movies with classic actors. (Pacino, DeNiro, Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Laurence Olivier, Spencer Tracy to just name a few.)

I just don't think that Brad Pitt can capture the complexity which embodied that of Jesse James. The man was the classic example torn between hero and villain status. I remember reading a biography of the man in junior high and reading about entire towns that would hide out the James-Younger Gang after a robbery and scary, but yes. I thought that that was so cool. This man was an outlaw, coming home from the Civil War where from his home state of Missouri, he served in a guerilla outfit, and proceeded to rob banks and trains from Texas to as far north as Minnesota.

"Jesse James (partly) turned to crime as a means of exacting revenge on all things Yankee," says Time-Life Books' The Wild West.

He is the classic guy torn between being bad and good. In my mind, a similar character immediately comes to mind- that of Michael Corleone from the classic "The Godfather" movies. With Jesse, the world doesn't know whether to love or hate him. I personally love him and the completely romantic notion of the wild west this man embodies.

Of James, crime historian Jay Robert Nash writes, "Millions of words would be written about this handsome, dashing and utterly ruthless bank and train robber. To many of his peers, he would appear a folklore hero who took vengeance in their name upon an industrial society that was grinding the old agrarian lifestyle to ashes. To others, he and his band represented the last vestiges of the Old South and its lost cause of secession...He was at large for sixteen years. He committed dozens of daring robberies and killed at least a half-dozen or more men. He died at the age of thirty-four."

This man is a legend and now Brad Pitt, cardboard extraordinaire, is going to be playing him. I'm sorry if I offended anyone with a "Mrs. Pitt" tee-shirt or who has every one of his movies and swoons over his nude scene in Thelma and Louise. I'm sorry to the people who saw Troy and truly believed that Brad Pitt was perfectly cast as Greek warrior Achilles. I didn't by the way. Not for a minute. Truly awful casting. But that seems to be the problem. People see Brad Pitt on the casting bill and for some reason, that is reason enough to flock to see the movie. Studios hear that Brad is going to be in a movie and they immediately finance it, not caring if he is right for the role or not.

Americans love the image of crime. Gangsters, outlaws, escaped convicts. People eat these subjects up. And Jesse James is one of the most infamous and legendary. To put Brad Pitt in the role of such a man, complex and yet honorable, for he believed that what he did was necessary, is a stretch. But if when this movie comes out and it's not a complete inaccuracy of historical facts, I'll write another post and admit that I was wrong. But I will never, never, admit that Brad Pitt is a magnificent actor and that he deserved to play this man.

My roommate asked me who I thought should play Jesse James instead. Easy. No one. Because no one can be Jesse James except the man himself.

Minstrel Billy Gashade wrote this song immediately after Jesse James' death. An overnight hit, its lyrics ran in major newspapers nationwide and the tune became a standard in vaudevilles and saloons. In the 1930s, songwriter Woody Guthrie rewrote the lyrics to promote the 20th Century-Fox movie, Jesse James, starring Tyrone Power (as Jesse) and Henry Fonda (as Frank James, his brother). The song and movie re-popularized the legend of the outlaw for a new generation. These are Grashade's original lyrics:

The Ballad of Jesse James

Jesse James was a lad that killed many a man, He robbed the Glendale train; But that dirty little coward that shot Mister Howard Has laid poor Jesse in his grave.

Poor Jesse had a wife to mourn for his life, Three children they were brave, But that dirty little coward that shot Mister Howard Has laid poor Jesse in his grave.

It was Robert Ford, that dirty little coward, I wonder how does he feel? For he ate of Jesse's bread and he slept in Jesse's bed, Then laid poor Jesse in his grave.

It was his brother Frank who robbed the Gallatin bank And carried the money from the town; It was in this little place that they had a little race, For they shot Captain Sheets to the ground.

It was on a Wednesday night, the moon was shining bright When they robbed the Glendale train; The people they did say, for many miles away, It was robbed by Frank and Jesse James.

He robbed from the rich and was a friend to the poor; He had a heart and a hand and a brain. With his brother Frank, he robbed the Northfield bank And stopped the Glendale train.

It was on a Saturday night, Jesse was at home, Talking to his family brave; Robert Ford came along like a thief in the night And laid poor Jesse in his grave.

The people held their breath when they heard of Jesse's death And wondered how he ever came to die. It was one of the gang called little Robert Ford who shot poor Jesse on the sly.

Jesse went to his rest with his hand on his breast, The devil will be upon his face. He was born one day in the county of Clay And came from a solitary race.


Anonymous triticale said...

So Brad Pitt is going to play the role of Dingus James, a man who justified his depredations by claiming to be continuing to fight for the Confederate Cause. I wonder it he will cut off the tip of his middle finger in the interest of authenticity.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Lets hope he does.

4:15 PM  
Blogger rickz said...

Well the movie is out and getting AAA ratings, but not for Brad.

The song -- which I love -- is getting new play.

Some outlaws don't REALLY die.

Rick Z.

7:59 PM  
Blogger JimmyW1954 said...

The best book on Jesse James is Paul Wellman's "A Dynasty of Western Outlaws". James was a complex figure who was formed as a teenager riding with Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson of the Missouri riders against the brutal rapists and murders from Kansas who called themselves "Jayhawkers" and "Redlegger". The movies, "The Outlaw Josie Wales" and "Ride with the Devil" give fairly accurate depictions of the criminality of the Kansans and what Missourians such as the James brothers had to deal with. After the war, these boys and their cousins, the Youngers, also veterans, were unable to settle down and turned their the military guerrilla tactics learned under Quantrill and Anderson to robbing banks and trains. The song captures the deep sympathy in which the citizens of Southern Missouri held the James boys. Frank James was subsequently acquitted in open court and became a popular lecturer, later with his old compatriot, Cole Younger. Both Frank James and Cole Younger died respected public figures. So the raw denunciations of these men as mere criminals does not begin to get at who they really were, or what the significance of their lives was.

As to Brad Pitt, one does not have to accept this interpretation of Jesse James character, but Pitt's performance can only be characterized as very strong.

12:47 AM  
Anonymous オテモヤン said...


12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well fist of all Brad Pitt is so much handsome than Jesse James, by the way a friend of mine told me that James likes to visit Viagra Online almost once per week.
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1:11 PM  

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