Rewatched Jun 16, 2012
Adam Cook’s review:
This is my first viewing since the film’s original release back in 2007 and I feel incredibly foolish for not having re-watched it sooner.
Quite simply The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a work of staggering brilliance and arguably the finest Western of the last twenty years. It is a film that exists on the border of two worlds - on one side it mythologizes the transitionary period of American history via the fable-building narration and dreamy photography, and on the other it slowly and methodically demystifies the characters that populate it and the falsehood of celebrity. It is this contradiction that is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film and mirrors the inner-conflict of Robert Ford and his complex relationship with Jesse James.
It is in this relationship that we witness not only Ford’s transition but James’ own transformation from the fictional larger-than-life idol to the reality of a ruthless man out of step with the world around him and beset by crippling paranoia. Despite Ford’s Judas-like betrayal his journey from hero worship, obsession to eventual resentment could almost mirror that of the audience’s own relationship with James’ character.
Few modern films are as near-perfect as this. Whether it is the quite remarkable cast that are not only great on paper but deliver career best performances on screen. Much has been rightly made of Casey Affleck’s nervous, ego-driven and obsessive performance but he is merely one great actor amongst an entire cast at the top of their game. For me this is still Pitt’s finest performance in a role that demands you to idolise yet fear him. The fact the likes of the predictably brilliant Sam Rockwell, Sam Shepard and Jeremy Renner barely get a mention just illustrates how all consuming Pitt and Affleck are in their respective roles.
The cinematography is achingly beautiful. If you ever need proof that the Academy Awards are a joke then look no further than the fact Roger Deakins has never won one. He perfectly captures the expressionist landscapes that dwarf the characters whilst shooting them in claustrophobic close-up during internal scenes. They are figures constantly imprisoned or lost by their surroundings. The pacing is languid but meticulously judged. The film has a magnetic rhythm that affords each and every character to be properly developed. Andrew Dominik’s direction is faultless as is his own script whilst Nick Cave and Warren Ellis deliver another stellar score.
A lyrical, beautifully crafted character study and one of the finest cinematic achievements of the past decade.