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The Assassination of Jesse James
by the Coward Robert Ford
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir-scr Andrew Dominik
with Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, Jeremy Renner, Sam Shepard, Garret Dillahunt, Mary-Louise Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Ted Levine, James Carville, Nick Cave
release US 21.Sep.07,
07/US Warner 2h40
You gotts know when to hold 'em: Affleck and Pitt
Fans of action Westerns may be disappointed by this epic drama, but it's written, filmed and acted with real beauty and skill. And it has something powerful to say about today's celebrity-obsessed culture.
In 1881, Jesse James (Pitt) was 34 and middle-aged. His career as an outlaw was slowing down, even as his legend grew. On his last big train robbery in Missouri, Bob Ford (Affleck) joins the James Gang. Younger brother of gang member Charley (Rockwell), he quickly moves to the inner circle with Dick Liddil (Schneider), Wood Hite (Renner) and Ed Miller (Dillahunt), as Jesse's sparky big brother Frank (Shepard) leaves. Over the next year or so, Jesse and Bob forge an uneasy working relationship, as Jesse discovers that Bob has revered him since childhood.
It's this hero-worship theme that makes the film so compellingly relevant. Bob's adulation shifts and changes as he gets to know the real Jesse's unpredictable mood swings and frightening bursts of violence. Then later, when Bob achieves his own fame, the overarching story takes on another layer of meaning. And all of this is played to perfection by the expressive, minutely detailed Affleck, countered by a kinetic, mercurial turn from Pitt.
In his script, Dominik never tries to create a standard adventure yarn, instead using homespun folk-tale narration (voiced by Hugh Ross). We know from the title exactly what's going to happen, and also that we may never know quite why. But that's not the point; this is a film about a group of men (the women barely register) locked together by forces they can't possibly understand. Jesse James was the world's first anti-hero who was relentlessly photographed and marketed to a public clamouring for more.
The film looks spectacular, with Roger Deakins' pristine cinematography capturing the textures of the landscapes, adding a soft-edged mythology that makes it timeless. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' score is simply gorgeous, and the film is impeccably edited. Yes, it's somewhat slow and long, but it's never dull as moods shift suddenly and character loyalties surge and wane. Rather than gun-slinging action, this is a Western full of raw, sometimes unbearable intensity. And it's both eloquent and indelible.
|James Schultz, Eureka, Ca: "Quite simply one of the great cinematic treats of all time. I am a life-long student of film history. I search for movies - modern to the silents - that blend every cinematic element as well as this one. Its a sad fact that there isn't much room for originality and art in the cineplex. Direction, Cinematography, Acting, Music/Scoring, Costume, Set Design, Sound Design, Screenwriting - the simple beauty of the narration. One of the great all-time casts. Casey Affleck is absolutely incredible. His intensity is so overwhelming it's often over-looked that Brad Pitt gives the performance of his life as well. His entire career has been building towards this one portrayal. Sam Shepard, Sam Rockwell (most def. overlooked), Mary-Louise Parker (always one of my fav. actresses, does so much with her limited screen time), my main man from Deadwood Garret Dillahunt. I could go on and on." (11.Feb.09)
© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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