Movie Reviews (such as they are)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

I had certain mixed feelings before watching The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, henceforth to be known as TAJJBCRF (pronounced tadge-buh-cruff). See, the thing was, some people whose views I respect on "proper cinema" were very complimentary, and I was afraid I might be let down. Shea of (un)heralded was one; Avid Andy of Control Z was another; and British film critic hero of mine Mark Kermode was the third. It was with trepidation, therefore, that I approached.

On the whole, though, I need not have worried.

TAJJBCRF is, in my opinion, one of those relatively few movies that look fucking amazing AND carry a good, worthwhile story. And when I say "look amazing", I don't mean overladen with SFX, CGI, and all that bullshit -- or at least not obviously so. It's a relatively simple story told with conviction by all involved and moving at a pace that is completely fitting. Slow and leisurely it unfolds, like the final days of a legend ought to.

That this is only the second film from director Andrew Dominik is almost beyond belief. But perhaps no less incredible is that this is the same director who seven years earlier brought us Chopper, with then stand-up comedian Eric Bana making a career-relaunching role of another legendary outlaw. So there are already some similarities between the films in Dominik's tiny oeuvre.

Brad Pitt is still a big name. The ladies love him, and the men want to be him? Well, I'm not sure about that, but he can act just fine, and he played Jesse James perfectly well, even though the character was rather unlikable.

But the big star here, the one who should have been called the lead actor, was little Casey Affleck. You might remember him from such films as Good Will Hunting, when he was all minor and young and fresh-faced. Now look: he's all groweds-up and a proper fully fledged acting talent.

For me, there is very little to complain about in TAJJBCRF. Except... Maybe it was just me, but I would have like to feel slightly more drawn into that world. I felt a little like an outsider looking in, as though someone was opening a history book for me and reading aloud. Maybe it was the narration (even though I do believe it was necessary); maybe it was the blurred edges of the image, giving the feel of old photographs. Perhaps it was simply the laid-back pace.

The funny thing is, immediately after watching it, I felt like I would probably never sit down to see it again. Now, a week or so later, I feel it calling to me, and I may be too weak to resist its call.

TAJJBCRF is certainly among the finest films I've seen in the past 12 months, and it's almost certainly the best western ever made. I give it 86 points out of 100.

Labels: , , ,