The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – 2007 Dominik
Known at the time as a tumultuous shoot, box office bomb, and for being treated indifferently by the critics (68 on metacritic) it is now, rightly, known for being 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. See pic above. 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
Cleary Dominik is inspired by Malick amongst others- most notably days of heaven with all the wheat scenes, natural lighting choices and clearly the Sam Shepard casting is a nod to that
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.
Blurred lens in the montages—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
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
Part of me wonders if this is the sum of magnificent parts (beautiful score, all-time work from an all-timer DP like Deakins, dueling performances worthy of such praise) or if Dominik is the force behind it all? I hope he continues to work so we can find out.
Hi Drake, love the site. Can you explain what you mean by “flawed sequence with Carville.” Flawed how?
@Haider– Thanks for visiting the site, the kind words about it and for the comment here. “flawed” may be too strong. I just didn’t think it was a great scene (in a film otherwise filled with great scenes and perfect casting). I think it’s just the cameo isn’t needed- It took me out of it and I didn’t think he was very good in the role.
So … Who is better Lubezki or Deakins?
Lubezki: The tree of life, Children of men, Birdman
Deakins: Blade Runner 2049, 1917 and this.
@Aldo- what a pair! I could create an argument for both- and their resume goes well beyond these films. If you forced me to pick I think I’d go Lubezki but I’m not sure there’s a right answer here. Both in the top 10 cinematographers of all-time. I want Lubezki back working. He’s been quiet since The Revenant. I made some joke somewhere on one of these pages about how he’s let Deakins finally win a couple of Oscars (Deakins has won two since Lubezki’s last serious work)
People really underrate Lubezki’s work on The New World, really think there’s a strong argument it’s his best!
@Zane– good stuff here- agree on The New World- it pretty close to the best (or at least most beautiful) for both Lubezki and Malick
What an absolute towering masterpiece of a film this is. I mean just wow. I genuinely cannot think of a single element of this film that is half-assed in any way. Storytelling, cinematography, acting, it’s got it all. One of the most powerfully affecting dramas I’ve ever seen in my entire life. People dislike this film because it’s “boring” and “too long” which is just crap. Just a wondrously breathtaking film.
@Zane- I’m so happy to read this- great share. Luckily this is one of those films that people continue to discover and rediscover– slowly but surely it is rightly earning a spot among the best films of the 2000’s
This page looks different on mobile.
@Graham- Sorry about that and thank you. Should be fixed
This film is truly special, just watched for the 1st time. Somehow it had always slipped by me. I have heard it referenced quite highly on this site in a few different posts but finally decided it was time to check it out after seeing it ranked 2nd on the 2007 page.
The thing is I think I can see why it might be a tough film for a more casual film viewer. It is not as easy a watch as say No Country for Old Men and it is definitely requires patience. But it is amazing imagery, great acting, and a phenomenal story to tell. I actually knew very little about the Jesse James story so it was cool to learn some American history as well even if that is not the primary reason why I watch film.
I have seen many people say Casey Affleck gives the best performance and he is great but I would go with Brad Pitt. I am not sure this is not Pitt’s best performance although I certainly will need more than one viewing given that I have seen Fight Club literally over 10 times. But Affleck and Pitt you cannot really go wrong they are both fantastic. I agree the Jesse James role needed a big presence and Pitt certainly brings that.
I love the Days of Heaven imagery and even the Sam Shepard casting which is mentioned on this page. The cinematography, lighting, moving clouds, etc. gives a unique visual experience. It is art film meets western.
I forgot to add the score was absolutely glorious, very powerful and highly appropriate to the subject matter. Haunting really.
Great analysis, gave this another watch and it just reinforced my initial beliefs.
“Blurred lens in the montages—almost like a vaseline-used on the lens to create a focus on the center image-“ I think this is more than an aesthetic choice too. It servers a sort of story-purpose: “Rooms seemed hotter when he was in them. Rains fell straighter. Clocks slowed. Sounds were amplified.” Jesse James’ presence is described as having this kind of disorienting yet hyper-focused/sensitivity effect. I think a similar effect is trying to be recreated for the audience. I also like how the blurriness/distortion wasn’t just an editing thing used in montages, a similar visual effect was created shooting scenes through windows with distorted glass. I thought that was pretty creative.
I caught this movie for the first time tonight and was blown away, it’s a big masterpiece. This also makes me even more excited to see how Blonde turns out. Was Dominick merely along for the ride (in the right place at the right time) in Jesse James or is he really a creative genius himself? I think Blonde can help us decide. Affleck and Pitt were incredible here. I guess Affleck is superior but I think it’s close, and am open to changing my mind if someone makes a compelling case for it. (Something I should have a better reading of when I inevitably watch this again)
Also what a banger of a title. Love it
@Matthew- Enjoyed this read here- thank you for putting this together