Monday, May 14, 2012

Movie of the Week – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The western is about Robert Ford, a young man who idolized Jesse James since childhood. When the James Gang takes on new members for a heist in Missouri, Ford tries to not only join the gang but befriend his idol as well, but when he meets the man he gradually comes to resent him.

The film is by New Zealand writer-director Andrew Dominik, making his first American studio picture (coming off the indie hit Chopper). He worked with producers Brad Pitt (who also stars in the film), Ridley Scott and Tony Scott, composers Nick Cave (who also makes a cameo) and Warren Ellis, wonderful cinematographer Roger Deakins (whose beautiful work on the film garnered an Oscar nomination), and production designers Richard Hoover and Patricia Norris.

The cast is also phenomenal with Pitt and Casey Affleck starring (Affleck also garnering an Oscar nod), and Mary-Louise Parker, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, Sam Shepard, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Schneider, Michael Parks, Ted Levine, and Zooey Deschanel in support, with great narration from Hugh Ross.

Dominik set out to make a Barry Lyndon style film about Jesse James and the man who shot him, delving both into the characters and the ambiance surrounding them. For a western (be it a very modern one stylistically), there is not much action (much to the chagrin Warner Bros. who funded the film), but the characters and landscapes are so rich and telling, that the film is still very much engaging without tons of chases and gun fights. It is a film that grows on you with each viewing. From an aesthetics standpoint, Pitt and Affleck are wonderful, the production design is spot on and Deakins’s photographer is marvelous (and probably among the top 10 or so best shot films of the last decade; he lost the Oscar to Robert Elswit’s work in There Will Be Blood, which is also a stylistically modern western that is very well shot). The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is probably not for everyone, but those that enjoy great character pieces will surely find this to be mesmerizing. Check out the trailer.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Streaming

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