Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Location: milwaukee, wi

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007)

If 2007 hadn't been the year of There Will Be Blood, The Assassination of Jesse James would have been both the best and the most beautiful film of last year. Criminally underrated, both by audiences and award ceremonies, Andrew Dominik's film is often described with words like "ponderous" and "epic." I stayed away from the film for just that reason; I have a short attention span at times, especially for movies that are slooooow and almost three hours long. But once I finally put this film into my DVD player, I couldn't stop it. It's epically gorgeous, including some of the best cinematography I've seen in American film in a long while. There's a scene near the beginning of the film, where the James gang is robbing their last train, and as the train approaches the roadblock in the middle of the night, the intensely bright light from the train cuts through the bare trees, and it was so beautiful I don't think I will ever forget it. The entire train robbery scene is beautiful, even when the gang boards the train and Jesse especially is brutally rough with the passengers. The film moves from the claustrophobia of the train to the intensely wide-open spaces all over the America of Jesse James. Another scene has Jesse and a member of the gang standing on the threshold of a giant ice field, symbolizing the desolate nature of this huge country.

Not only is the film incredibly gorgeous, the performances are all career-best. Brad Pitt is really remarkable as James; it's a testament to his performance that after a few minutes, you forget about Brad Pitt, movie star, and think of him as James. His James is all over the place: paranoid, insomniac, jumpy, tired of a life that has never allowed him to have a real home. Enter Robert Ford, Casey Affleck in a rightfully Oscar-nominated role (in fact, I might like this performance better than Javier Bardem's winning one. Might.). Ford is a real loser, someone who has been made fun of his entire life, idolizes James, and has dreams and plans for himself he will never live up to, even after his famous murder. Since the conclusion of the film is foregone, we're never in suspense as to what will happen, just when, and what will provoke it. Somehow, Robert Ford and his brother Charley end up in the James Gang, getting closer and closer to Jesse. But things happen along the way, and Jesse knows to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. The interplay between James and Ford, neither sure what the other knows or knows they know, is fascinating to watch.

There's so much I could talk about in regards to this film; just about every scene has something I could probably write 500 words about. It's gorgeous, engaging, and superbly acted, and it's a shame that this movie didn't get the attention or acclaim that There Will Be Blood did. In fact, these two would make a good (if 6 hour) double-header, as some of the themes are shared, and the view of America is similar. Both movies have a superb score, as well -- Nick Cave did Jesse James', and even makes a great little cameo appearance. Everything about this film is really well crafted, and often breathtaking. A quiet little movie that will get in your mind and stay there.


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Comments on "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007)"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (7:23 AM) : 

The family of Jesse James have posted their own 5 page review of this movie on their family web site, together with stories about the James family’s former experiences with Hollywood and Jesse James movies.


Blogger betsy said ... (8:38 AM) : 

i'm so glad you reviewed this one. i AGREE, it was outstanding and faced some tough competition but wow, still deserves that 9 :).


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