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THE 2007 VENICE FILM FESTIVAL

Below are a few notable features screened at the 64th edition of the Venice Biennale, which ran from August 29 through September 8. For full festival details, click here; to read about the top winners, click here.

 

IN COMPETITION

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Mary Louise Parker, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschenal, Jeremy Renner, Michael Parks, Barbara Kozicki, Garret Dillahunt (Directed by Andrew Dominik; Written by Ron Hansen; Warner Bros.) Jesse James, a good old Missouri boy, had little tolerance for the feds and railroad tycoons who relieved farm folk of their homes in the late 19th century. That’s presumably why he formed a gang and got into the profitable but risky business of robbing banks and terrorizing train riders. In the end, Jesse was undone by Robert Ford, a young gang member who went from revering his outlaw boss to deeply resenting him. Or so the story by novelist/screenwriter Ron Hansen--which is the basis for this film--goes. Brad Pitt, who’s at his best when playing on the wrong side of the law, is Jesse and Casey Affleck is Robert Ford. As for Sam Shepard, he plays Jesse’s brother Frank, a role which gave Henry Fonda the opportunity to steal the 1939 “Jesse James” from Tyrone Power. To read the Variety review of "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," click here; for details on more new biopics, click here.

ATONEMENT: Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Vanessa Redgrave, Romolo Garai, Saoirse Ronan, Brenda Blethyn, Juno Temple (Directed by Joe Wright; Written by Christopher Hampton; Focus Features) In the wake of her frantic yet flimsy contributions to the achingly trivial “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy, Keira Knightley apparently decided it was time to get serious. So she took on the challenge of playing the tormented Cecilia Tallis in “Atonement,” Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel. This heavy-duty drama has been directed by Joe Wright, who, in 2005’s “Pride & Prejudice,” helped Knightley reveal the wit and vulnerability beneath her glossy, high-fashion façade. Her spirited portrait of Emma Bennet earned an Oscar nomination, and the fact that “Atonement” was selected to open the 2007 Venice Film Festival suggests she may well be among the Best Actress nominees when the next batch of Oscars are handed out on the night of February 24, 2008. Keira--or, rather, Cecilia Tallis, the heroine of McEwan’s 2002 Booker Prize winner--is a privileged member of a prominent 1930s British family who is home from Cambridge in the summer of 1935 with handsome classmate Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of the Tallis’ cleaning woman who has risen to the enviable position of Cecilia’s lover. Witnessing an intimate exchange between the two, Cecilia’s dangerously imaginative 13-year-old sister Briony contrives a story so shocking that it results in the imprisonment of Robbie. Life soon becomes a nightmare for the Tallis clan and for those unfortunate enough to have been part of their not-so-charmed circle. Their anguish endures through many stages and does not end until the dawning of the 21st century. So who plays the deceitful Briony? Saoirse Ronan, at the time of the big lie; Romola Garai at the age of 18; and , blessing of blessings, Vanessa Redgrave as the older, presumably wiser, Briony. To read the Variety review of "Atonement," click here; for details about more new movies based on books, click here.

THE DARJEELING LIMITED: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, Natalie Portman, Roman Coppola, Amara Karan, Camilla Rutherford, Irfan Khan (Directed by Wes Anderson; Written by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman; Fox Searchlight) A trio of emotionally addled, intellectually challenged, highly competitive American siblings (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman) still grieve--each in his own way--for their charismatic father one year after his death. In an attempt to heal spiritual wounds and repair severed brotherly bonds, they decide to choo-choo across India together. Their oddball stop-offs in villages and on parched stretches of desert are fueled by a plethora of pain killers, a heaping dose of exotic cough syrup and a wayward laminating machine. If you’ve seen this auteur's inimitably topsy-turvy “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” you surely know what to expect from the latest Andersonian odyssey.

I’M NOT THERE: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Julianne Moore, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Michelle Williams, (Directed by Todd Haynes; The Weinstein Company) Did you ever have the feeling that there’s something baffling, if not downright bizarre, about legendary music man Bob Dylan? Well, the mystery may soon be cleared up in this brazen biopic. Who's been handed the task of acting (and singing) like Dylan in all of his shifting complexity? As it turns out, it took at least five men and one woman to rise to the challenge: Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Marcus Carl Franklin and, yes, a notably curly-haired Cate Blanchett. The women in Dylan’s life are played by Julianne Moore, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Michelle Williams (Heath Ledger’s wife in “Brokeback Mountain” and in real life). Director Todd Haynes, who worked wonders with Julianne Moore in “Safe” and “Far From Heaven,” will undoubtedly keep all of these heavyweight performers blowin’ eloquently in the wind. To read about more new biopics, click here.

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH: Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, Jason Patric, Josh Brolin, James Franco, Frances Fisher, Barry Corbin, Jonathan Tucker (Written and directed by Paul Haggis; Warner Independent Pictures) Readers of Playboy magazine were shocked by “Death and Dishonor,” Mark Boal’s investigative article published in the summer of 2004. Boal interviewed Lanny Davis, a former U.S. Army M.P., about the death of his son, who had been reported AWOL following a tour of duty in Baghdad. Davis, refusing to accept the army’s version of his son’s disappearance, eventually discovered that the young man had in fact been brutally murdered by his army buddies after a night of partying in Georgia. Paul Haggis, the writer-director of “Crash,” purchased rights to the story, added a few fictional touches, and signed up a sterling cast headed by Tommy Lee Jones as the ex-soldier in pursuit of justice. To read about more new war-themed movies, click here.

LUST, CAUTION: Tony Lueng, Tang Wei, Joan Chen, Lee-Hom Wang, Anupam Kher, Johnson Yuen (Directed by Ang Lee; Written by James Chang and Hui-Ling Wang; Focus Features) Director Ang Lee, who won the top prize at the 2005 festival for his “Brokeback Mountain,” is back, this time with an exotic, erotic World War II tale set in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. The intense, luxurious focus is on the steamy affair between a Chinese collaborator and the beautiful woman assigned to entice and assassinate the handsome traitor.

MICHAEL CLAYTON: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack, Sean Cullen, Michael O’Keefe, Ken Howard, Austin Williams, David Zayas, Kevin Hagan, Pamela Gray, Amy Hargreaves, Heidi Armbruster, Christopher Mann, Jack Fitz (Written and directed by Tony Gilroy; Warner Bros.) A phone tapper and a hit man are just two of the bad boys who may feel at home at the prestigious New York law firm where attorney Michael Clayton (George Clooney) works. Clayton himself, the divorced father of a troubled boy, has conceivably schmoozed with these and other thugs during the 15 years he has performed legal miracles for his slippery, high-profile clients. One thing he learns for sure: more than one of these clients have not told him the entire truth about matters of life and death. And now, at a time of personal peril, Clayton is probably wondering why the lovely young attorney with whom he’s been having a clandestine affair is asking him so many deeply probing questions about his unlovely work history. This thriller marks the directorial debut of writer Tony Gilroy, whose screenplays include “Devil’s Advocate,” “Proof of Life,” "The Bourne Identity," “The Bourne Supremacy”and "The Bourne Ultimatum."

REDACTED: Kel O’Neill, Ty Jones, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Izzy Diaz, Rob Devaney, Patrick Carroll (Written and directed by Brian De Palma; Magnolia Pictures) In 1989, director Brian De Palma shocked audiences with “Casualties of War,” an uncompromising drama written by David Rabe, who based his screenplay on a New Yorker article by Daniel Lang. The true story, starring Sean Penn and Michael J. Fox, focused on four GIs who kidnap a Vietnamese woman, rape her, and then stab her to death. The war this time takes place in Iraq, and, once again, the events detailed by De Palma in “Redacted” are based on a horrific true story--the rape and murder of an Iraqi teenager and three members of her family by four GIs. To read about more new war-themed movies, click here.

SLEUTH: Michael Caine, Jude Law (Directed by Kenneth Branagh; Written by Harold Pinter; Sony Pictures Classics) A distinguished, conniving, sexually possessive playwright discovers that his lovely wife is having a red-hot fling with a brazen young actor. So, while his wife is away, he invites the handsome adulterer to spend the weekend with him at his secluded manor. Just a couple of buddies amusing--and possibly even murdering--one another. If this all sounds more than a little familiar to you, that may be because you saw Anthony Shaffer’s thriller on stage, as well as the 1972 movie version starring Laurence Olivier as the wordsmith and Michael Caine as the thespian. This time, Caine is playing the cuckold and the role of the sneaky lover has been entrusted to Jude Law (who, as you no doubt know, played the shameless womanizer in the remake of “Alfie,” a role brought memorably to life by Michael Caine in the original). To read about more new movie remakes, click here.


OUT OF COMPETITION

CASSANDRA’S DREAM: Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell, Hayley Atwell, Tom Wilkinson, Sally Hawkins, Tamzin Uthwaite, Mark Umbers, Andrew Howard (Written and directed by Woody Allen; Wild Bunch) Rumored to be Woody Allen’s darkest film ever, this London-set drama scrutinizes the unraveling relationship between two down-on-their-luck Cockney brothers (McGregor and Farrell). Why the bad blood? Blame it on Angela (Hayley Atwell), a gold-digging hottie who lures the siblings into a world of slime-crime, managing in the process to seduce one of them and traumatize the other. To read the Variety review of "Cassandra's Dream," click here; for Guy Flatley's 1978 interview with Woody Allen, click here.