Dominik. The New Zealand born director Andrew Dominik is a tough one. There’s his 2007 epic masterpiece that hits artistic heights that many, many directors on this list ahead of him never reach. But the drop off after that film is steep. Dominik is anything but prolific (just 3 features total including his debut in 2000) and his resume is lacking. His second best effort is far weaker than other directors like Carol Reed (who gave us The Third Man). If Dominik is Ridley Scott (and he’s not)- he needs an Alien to his Blade Runner. Until then, part of me wonders if The Assassination of Jesse James isn’t the sum of magnificent parts (beautiful score, all-time work from an all-timer DP like Roger Deakins, dueling performances worthy of such praise from actors on the level of Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt). Is Dominik is the force behind it all? I hope he continues to work so we can find out.

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Is Dominik is the force behind it all in The Assassination of Jesse James? I hope he continues to work so we can find out

Best film: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

  • Known at the time as a tumultuous shoot, box office bomb, and for being treated indifferently by the critics (68 on mc) it is now, rightly, largely, recognized as a masterpiece and one of the best films of the decade
  • There is a folkloric importance or substance to the film
  • Both Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt are revelations in the two leads, often paralleled and compared, and formally, beautifully woven together with dueling executions (both involving Affleck’ Bob Ford)
  • It’s simply Roger Deakins’ greatest work. He’s practically came out and said as much about the night scene with the train robbery. It’s one of the most beautiful cinematic sequences and images I’ve seen
  • The casting of the two leads is inspired. Pitt is a celebrity—a big celebrity- and this role/performance calls for someone of size— also, Affleck is the shorter, less handsome and less famous brother of Ben Affleck. It’s perfect.
  • Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ transcendent score is every bit the equal of Greenwood’s genius in There Will Be Blood. One of the greatest scores of all-time
  • Sweepingly atmospheric exterior photography- largely in Canada I believe- Alberta
  • The documentary-like voice-over (with heavy adjectives from the era) from outside the world of the film seems to have divided some critics—I’m an admirer of it.
  • Pitt is elusive and terrifying. He’s always teetering on the edge. Filled with melancholy and obsessed with death
  • Affleck’s Bob says to “Jesse” “how long you been studying me”- which is ironic of course
  • The cast is a talented ensemble—it feels like a who’s who now with Renner and Rockwell. Paul Schneider is great, Michael Parks and Ted Levine in a flawed sequence with Carville
  • It’s hard to find a two-person character study this good
  • Many critics complain of the length of the film—and it is paced—but I don’t think there’s much wasted at all and at the very least you’re treated to some of the best photography and music you’ll see or hear
  • Meditation on celebrity, obsession
  • Again, the train arrival sequence deserves a 10 page paper. It’s a perfect orchestration of lighting, score, editing. It’s absolutely masterful.
  • Series of freeze frames with voice over in the ending
  • A masterpiece

total archiveable films: 3

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  1

top 100 films of the decade:  1

most overrated: Dominik doesn’t have a single film on the TSPDT consensus top 2000. Jesse James is underrated, Chopper is like #50 for the year 2000 on the TSPDT 21st century list which is pretty fair and Killing Them Softly isn’t there at all.

most underrated :  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. There are now six films from 2007 on the TSPDT top 1000 and one of them isn’t this masterpiece. That’s wrong.

gem I want to spotlight : Killing Them Softly

  • Anytime you’re a director and Rex Reed calls you “pretentious’ you’re onto something as an artist
  • The film is overt in its tones- cynical, political and nihilistic. I love all three. It’s not “what” Dominik is saying about the politics but how he says it I enjoy. It’s an ongoing visual and aural (not subtle) motif and caps it with that great ending line by Pitt. “In America, you’re on your own. Now f*cking pay me.”
  • Visuals- dilapidated houses. Detailed costume and décor- Mendelsohn is sweaty and disheveled to say the least
  • Opens with Obama, Bush speech during poker game (not realistic but we’re working on something here with Dominik)—the film is soaked in this financial/political speak stemming from the crisis in 2008. CSPAN on and talk radio
  • 23 minutes in intro to Pitt in a 97 minute movie. Gandolfini is even later as “Mickey”- he’s very good as is Mendelsohn. It’s a superb ensemble. In 97 minutes Dominik packs in these three, Liotta, Sam Shepard (blink and you’ll miss him) and Richard Jenkins
  • There’s gorgeous photography throughout. Liotta getting beat up in the rain is strong
  • The single greatest scene is the killing of Liotta through the windshield (almost like a spider web in a very detailed slow-motion photography sequence). It’s a stunner
the single greatest scene is the killing of Liotta through the windshield (almost like a spider web in a very detailed slow-motion photography sequence). It’s a stunner
  • Meticulously edited. The scene of Mendelsohn going in and out of sleep on heroin and sleep deprivation is a fine mini-montage as well
  • Recommend and ultimately a little disappointing that after jesse james in 2007 Dominik can’t put together a top 10 of the year quality film
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at least I’m seeing a detail in the lighting figures here that mirrors the shot with the fixtures in Jesse James

stylistic innovations/traits:

  • Even the stylistic traits are tough to discuss because many only (or largely) pertain to his 2007 magnum opus
  • myth-making of an outlaw in Chopper and Jesse James
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is almost a miracle of beautiful images and sound
  • Cleary Dominik is inspired by Malick in Jesse James– most notably Days of Heaven with all the wheat scenes, natural lighting choices and clearly the Sam Shepard casting is a nod to that
Cleary Dominik is inspired by Malick in Jesse James– most notably Days of Heaven with all the wheat scenes, natural lighting choices and clearly the Sam Shepard casting is a nod to that
  •  Blurred lens in the montages of Jesse James with the voice-over—almost like a vaseline-used on the lens to create a focus on the center image- it’s formally sound where and when it’s worked in
Blurred lens in the montages of Jesse James with the voice-over
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it’s formally sound where and when it’s worked in
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almost like a vaseline-used on the lens to create a focus on the center image
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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is almost a miracle of beautiful images and sound
  • Train robbery scene in Jesse James  is one of the great sequences in 21st century cinema- luminous
Train robbery scene in Jesse James  is one of the great sequences in 21st century cinema- luminous

top 10

  1. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
  2. Killing Them Softly
  3. Chopper

By year and grades

2000- Chopper R
2007- The Assassination of Jesse James MP
2012- Killing Them Softly R

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives