The Assassination of... (2004)
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Review Date: January 12, 2005
Director: Niels Mueller
Writer: Niels Mueller, Kevin Kennedy
Producers: Alfonso Cuaron, Jose Vergara
Sean Penn as Sam
Don Cheadle as Bonny
Naomi Watts as Marie
“Inspired by a true story”, this film tells the tale of a man who simply could not take it anymore, with his job sucking all the goodness from his insides, his ex-wife moving on and not really giving two shits about him and the nation as a whole, being transfixed by the “evil” that, in his eyes, was based around the President of the United States at the time, Richard Nixon. As the man tries to better his life, the bad luck of his draw seems to follow him around, until…
This has gotta be one of the slowest, most methodical movies of the year, one that takes its time about taking time, but really had me from the get-go, with not very much to go on in actual “plot”, but plenty to go on in terms of the highest of acting acumen in the form of the great American thespian Sean Penn, who blew me out of the water with yet another truly original, exact, almost form-shifting performance, that can be described best with a certain word that tickles my fancy: tour-de-force. This film is the very definition of a “character study” with the lead man on the edge’s slowly-burning-lit-fuse truly engrossing me in his day-to-day shenanigans. I didn’t believe that anyone could top Christian Bale’s showing from THE MACHINIST this year, but by minute five of this picture, I was completely enraptured in the nerve-wrackingly simmering performance by Penn, who takes a character that can so obviously be likened to Travis Bickle from TAXI DRIVER in many ways (even his last name is Bicke here), but who empowers him with an incredible combination of stillness, weight, patheticness and desperation, while at the same time, allowing the lines in his face (the man doesn’t crack a smile all film!), his seemingly righteous attitude and obvious moral attempt to swim out of the greed-based muck that seems to have engulfed society around him, to allow us to empathize and follow him all the way through his sick mind and an ending that implodes upon impact. Director Niels Mueller also has a lot to do with the film’s success, as he takes a similar trajectory as Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER, but sets the film’s in a less grungy and street level, connecting us with people close to the lead character, while at the same time, giving us a true sense of oncoming and, almost inevitable, doom.

Lots of people obviously believe in this guy as well, with directors Alexander Payne, Alfonso Cuaron and actor Leonardi DiCaprio involved in the production on this film in various ways. Scenes featuring Penn’s character narrating to us with Leonard Bernstein’s musical score sounding in the background, helped the film develop an even more claustrophobic feeling and sense of growing isolation. The film is all about Penn’s character and his inability to deal with the setbacks in his life, as well as the sane and mature responsibilities that come with life in the 20th century, but plenty of side characters added to the film’s deeper tapestry, including small, but important, turns from Naomi Watts and Don Cheadle, as well as two surprising presences in an unrecognizable Michael Wincott and an actor who I’d never really noticed before, but made a nice impact here as Penn’s know-it-all boss, Jack Thompson. This is not a film for the “action fan” or even those who prefer the straightforward biographical pictures (the movie is said to be “inspired” by a true story, which always makes it difficult to know what really happened/didn’t happen), but if you love character dramas about troubled beings who just can’t seem to get a hold of their lives, to the point that they start to develop other unhealthy fixations or “solutions”, this film is sure to rate right up there, particularly if you’re a big fan of Sean Penn, who once again, proves to the world that he can completely inhabit another human being on screen, and make us want to watch him over and over and over again…no matter how nuts he may be!
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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