Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

"You think it's all made up don't ya? You think it's all yarns and newspaper stories. "

Written By: Andrew Dominik

Directed By: Andrew Dominik

Starring: Casey Affleck, Brad Pitt, Sam Rockwell

My rating: 10/10

Rarely have I sat through a film and immediately come out thinking "that was a perfect piece of cinema and I wouldn't change a thing". The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is definitely the one of the best films of the year, if not THE best. It is a great blend of fine storytelling, captivating performances and astonishing cinematography that would appeal to anyone who can tolerate it's 2 hour, 40 min length.

The film tells the story of Bob Ford (Casey Affleck) who becomes involved in Jesse James' gang through his brother Charley (Sam Rockwell) and is clearly obsessed with Jesse, the hero from so many stories and legends. From the opening scene, Bob is a hateful guy. He is arrogant, pathetic and proud. Everyone around him recoils in his presence. He is so unlikeable, in fact, that it is difficult not to feel sorry for him. Meanwhile Jesse James (Brad Pitt) is coming slightly unhinged. With the wild west being tamed by the incoming justice system, his sense of place and legend status is reaching an anti-climax. After various back-stabbing and betrayals of trust, the characters fear each other and constantly watch their backs, never knowing when their last hour will come.

The film is slow-moving, deliberately paced, but no scene goes by without pushing the plot forward. The dialogue is beautifully written and the characters are extremely well fleshed out by both the screenplay and the fine ensemble cast.

Like Andrew Dominik's notorious previous film Chopper this film examines the nature of celebrity and the thin line between legends and criminals. Although less brutal then Chopper, Jesse James shares his amusement with people's perceptions of him. He revels in his hero status, although the film finds him at a time where he seems to be realising its inevitable end. The intimacy and beauty of the characters are perfectly reflected in Dominiks direction and in the awe-inspiring cinematography. Not surpringly, the director of photography was Roger Deakins, the man who gave us Fargo and The Shawshank Redemption. Nobody else can capture stillness of nature and characters' intimacy with their environment quite like Roger Deakins and this film is no exception. The cold, open spaces of Canada, doubling as Missouri for most of the film act both as a beautiful expression of the freeness of their lifestyle and also as a desolate void that imposes more and more on the characters as their relationships become more complex. The film shows a lovely mix of flamboyant expressionistic mythicism and naked grit which highlight both the glamour and the lows of the legendary gang.

Adding to the deliberately brooding cinematography is Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' moody score, which adds considerably to the noble and chilling tone of the film. Like the film itself, the score is both starkly bare, and also richly entertaining. Like 2006's The Proposition, also scored by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, the score gives the film texture and terror that could not have been there otherwise.

Overall I would recommend this film to anyone. I think dads and grandads would enjoy it as much as arthouse cinema dwellers. It has enough heart and soul to win anyone over and is certainly worth seeing if only for Casey Affleck's brave, creepy turn as the slimy Bob Ford. No film this year will beat its visual and aural beauty and few films have ever examined so sophisticatedly the intricacies of celebrity and idolatry. Fingers crossed for all involved at the Academy Awards but I'm pretty sure No Country For Old Men is representing the Western genre this year and Oscar town probably ain't big enough for the two of 'em.

- Charlene Lydon 16/01/2008

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