Portfolio – September 04, 2007

BRAD PITT LOOKS IN THE MIRROR – by Johanna Schneller

“I wish I’d changed my name,” Brad Pitt told me in a swanky hotel in the funky little African coast beach town of Swapokmund, Namibia last year. “Made a stage name. But I wasn’t going to do it. I was going to just be me, that’s it I didn’t want any pretense and I was adamant about it. Now, looking back, I wish I had, because then, when people call your your name out on the street, you know where it’s coming from.”

We’d been talking about a line in Andrew Dominik’s adaptation of Ron Hansen’s 1983 novel, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which debuts to the public next week at the Toronto International Film Festival, and opens in four cities September 21.

(James says to his killer-to-be, played in the film by by Casey Affleck, “Do you ever get surprised when you see yourself in a mirror? Do you ever find yourself saying, ‘Why do they call him by my name?'”)

After a long spell of being harassed by “stalkerazzi who shoot through your window”–Pitt talks with subdued bitterness of one type who stuck a `Team Aniston’ bumper sticker on his brother’s car at the height of the furor over his divorce (mingled in the tabloids with his uniting with Mr. and Mrs. Smith co-star Angelina Jolie)–he holds no regrets:

“Man, you know, you got to make decisions that are best for your life and that’s the bottom line, and as rocky as it may be, I’ve got the long term in mind. It’s a shame that it’s got to be used as public entertainment. But it’s not going to stop me from what I believe is best. That’s the way it’s got to be.”

The film, said by Pitt to be “in the spirit of, dare I say it, Kubrick and Malick–the slow burn kind of tension,” was scheduled, when we spoke, for release this past spring. The unveiling will now come two years past the debut date Warner Bros. Pictures had first planned.

With the studio seemingly dubious over the marketability s of Dominik’s 160-minute cut, and the Australian writer-director (Chopper) said to be intransigent, the film’s been sparingly screened, to decidedly mixed results. Is it what the Hollywood Reporter called, “smothered in pointlessly long takes, repetitive scenes, grim Western landscapes and mumbled, heavily accented dialogue”, or what Variety’s Todd McCarthy called it: “A ravishing, magisterial, poetic epic that moves its characters toward their tragic destinies with all the implacability of a Greek drama.”?

With a platformed release beginning in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and Austin, the $30-million Western (co-produced by Pitt’s Plan B and Ridley and Tony Scott’s Scott Free Productions) will need more than a couple raves to match Pitt’s average $65-million box office take.

Look for something more on the order of the artistically righteous Fight Club or Babel, and hang on for another arty entry, 2008’s The Curious case of Benjamin Button, directed by his “razor-sharp” pal David Fincher.

The film’s Jesse, he says, is wondering “what do you do with your life at this point when everything you know doesn’t work for you anymore?” He praises Dominik for creating something “elegant.”

“What we’re talking about is a form of music or poetry,” he adds, “so I think it’s a very specific audience. With me being in the front row. Andrew said the funniest thing to me. He said, ‘Making a movie is just watching all your great ideas crumble around you.'”