The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)
The Plodding Plot: A brooding, shadowy drama that’s less about rootin’ tootin’ shootouts than it is about disillusionment and self-loathing. Even the big climax is neatly signposted in the title.
Rewarding Pay-Off: Pitt and Affleck are both superb, and Coen brothers regular Roger Deakins was unlucky to miss out on an Oscar for his arresting cinematography. As for the assassination itself, it’s just about as bleak and unglamorous as they come.
Action-Packed Alternative: True Grit was a recent example of a more traditionally action-packed tale of fate catching up with a varmint.
Short Cuts (1993)
The Plodding Plot: Robert Altman’s series of interweaving LA narratives are a sight more glossy than many of the films on this list, but that doesn’t change the fact that a degree of patience is needed while the film sets about establishing its many characters. It demands a definite investment on the part of the audience, the film jumping to another story just as you’re beginning to get a feel for the previous one.
Rewarding Pay-Off: Once you adjust to its peculiar rhythms, this is an achingly cool if decidedly off-the-wall portrayal of contemporary Los Angeles. And the cast is bloody brilliant. Pacing-wise, it moves as life does… a series of slow-paced incidents contributing to a satisfying whole.
Action-Packed Alternative: Crash does the whole interconnecting stories angle, but chucks some explosions, gunplay and Ludacris into the mix.
Apocalypse Now Redux (1979 / 2000)
The Plodding Plot: Inserting an hour of extra footage into an already epic journey, Francis Ford Coppola’s extended masterpiece becomes less bewildering but arguably much more draining in its longer form.
Rewarding Pay-Off: Some of the additional scenes provide a welcome counterpoint to the jungle fever of the original cut, helping to create a more contemplative journey into hell. And of course, the stunning finale retains all of its old power.
Action-Packed Alternative: There’s action aplenty, it’s just much more spaced out in this version.
Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
The Plodding Plot: A slice of surrealism from notoriously “languid” filmmaker Bela Tarr (he of the 435-minute Satantango ) set in a barren, Hungarian township in which order is disturbed by the arrival of a sinister travelling circus.
Rewarding Pay-Off: The plot is fairly impenetrable, but the best policy is to sit back and admire the stunning imagery on show throughout, from the magisterial (and creepy) stuffed whale, to the bizarrely choreographed barroom dancing. Utterly unique, and suprisingly hypnotic, provided you don’t go in expecting to understand everything first time around.
Action-Packed Alternative: There are no such troublesome complexities in John C. Reilly’s Cirque Du Freak …
The Plodding Plot: When a young girl mysteriously vanishes during a yachting trip to Sicily, her boyfriend and best friend form an uncomfortable bond as they attempt to solve her disappearance. By throwing his lead characters into an unyielding environment and steadfastly refusing to grant them definitive closure, director Michaelangelo Antonioni creates one of the most deliciously obscure slices of cinema you could hope to see.
Rewarding Pay-Off: You’re joking, right? Anyone hoping for a neat resolution will be sorely disappointed. Instead, the pleasure comes from witnessing a director skilfully dismantling the traditional structure of what could have been a straightforward adventure movie, and replacing it with a disconcerting study of social displacement.
Action-Packed Alternative: Gone Baby Gone also features a missing girl (albeit a much younger one) and actually stays with that storyline to the end!
Last Days (2005)
The Plodding Plot: Michael Pitt plays a depressed rock star (modelled upon Kurt Cobain) drifting towards suicide as his friends and hangers-on party around him. Anyone hoping for a sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll blowout will be disappointed: this is a mournful riff on the nature of depression rather than a Cobain biopic.
Rewarding Pay-Off: Less obscure then the tedious Gerry , Van Sant’s return to indie filmmaking works a treat here, his observational, detached style the perfect medium by which to portray a man adrift. Disorientating, yes. Pointless, no.
Action-Packed Alternative: Pining for jangling guitars and sex with groupies? Almost Famous is a more conventional portrayal of the rock star lifestyle.
Paris, Texas (1984)
The Plodding Plot: Wim Wenders puts rural America under the microscope with this enigmatic saga about an amnesiac’s cross-country odyssey to discover what has become of his wife and child. Lassitude is king as the untamed American landscape hogs the bulk of the spotlight…
Rewarding Pay-Off: The eventual revelation of the lead-character’s self-made tragedy provides a shockingly satisfying conclusion to a film spent largely in the wilderness.
Action-Packed Alternative: Tremors . More desert-based dilemmas, this time with a side-order of giant killer worms.
Barry Lyndon (1975)
The Plodding Plot: Stanley Kubrick adapts William Thackaray’s notoriously wordy first novel about a ruthless social climber, and his painstaking ascent to a place amongst the aristocracy. Compelling it might be, but it’s not one for the impatient viewer.
Rewarding Pay-Off: Despite accusations of a lack of heart, the level of detail present in Kubrick’s adaptation is second to none, and the level of unpretentious philosophising he wrings from his characters (or rather constructs) distinctly impressive. So what if they aren’t hugely likeable? How many of Kubrick’s characters ever are?
Action-Packed Alternative: For costume drama with splatter, go and watch The Patriot . Chances are you’ll find yourself a lot more bored than with Kubrick’s three hour masterpiece.
The Pledge (2001)
The Plodding Plot: Jack Nicholson plays a washed-up detective unable to let go of an old case in Sean Penn’s bleak and ponderous crime saga. A slow, painful depiction of dedication turning to obsession turning to madness.
Rewarding Pay-Off: It might be a little too grim for some tastes, but the snail’s pace never renders things less than engrossing. Nicholson is on top form, reigning himself in impressively, whilst a tear-stained cameo from Mickey Rourke represents another high point.
Action-Packed Alternative: Any number of grizzled, “one-last-case” blastathons churned out by mainstream Hollywood.
Into Great Silence (2005)
The Plodding Plot: There isn’t really a plot, seeing as this is a documentary following the lives of Carthusian Monks living high in the French Alps. Three hours long, it’s more or less dialogue-free, fairly repetitive and light on action. But then, what were you expecting? A car chase?
Rewarding Pay-Off: If you can stick with it, it provides an incomparable insight into the dedication and spiritual resolve of its subjects. Just about as meditative a cinematic experience as you could hope for.
Action-Packed Alternative: Of Gods Of Men portrays similarly dedicated monks in the more explosion-friendly setting of civil war.