Wednesday 6 February 2008

The Assassination of Shite by the Hero Andrew Dominik...

Okay, okay, such a pun-tastically cheesy title shouldn't really grace musings concerning The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but you know how it is in blog-land.

But I characteristically digress.

Having struggled through development adversity, at long last the definitive film regarding who could arguably be considered the first celebrity - the notorious Jesse James - is upon us. It opens with the James gang's apparent last big score, a sequence that seems to evoke the cinematic grandeur of the frontier-breaking iron horse, which steamed towards the very first cinema goers. There is an air of majesty in the build up, illuminated amidst the clutter of trees by a beacon-like head lamp.

From the outset you sense that this film is going to go where too few Hollywood productions dare to venture. To tread into an uncertain world of meticulously crafted, morally complex protagonists. This collection of iconic individuals say as much silent and with a stare, than they do when their carefully chosen words are laid gently upon the table.

Indeed, the strength of the often stoic performances are greatest during the eponymous betrayal. Much like the entirety of the film, this scene is slow burn. It creeps forth with Nick Cave's moving and thoughtful score as Brad Pitt (the eponymous anti-hero), Casey Affleck (the eponymous coward) and Sam Rockwell (the coward's elder brother) deliver beautifully understated, yet no less powerful performances.

Perhaps surprisingly, but it is not Pitt, but Affleck who plays the strongest role. At first a very nervous, twitchy, even shy admirer of the James gang's iconic leader, he grows into a more confident - yet still somewhat socially awkward - spurned celebrity follower. It is the journey of Robert Ford which is ultimately the most tragic, mirroring with greater intensity the plight of Jesse James himself, who is a man we eventually come to understand as a loving, church-going patriarch, but whom remains a cold-blooded thief and killer.

Dominik directs with care a considered, restrained epic. It is a film filled with astoundingly beautiful vistas, captured with suitably thoughtful photography, which goes so far as to touche your soul. The Assassination of Jesse James, like the risk-taking epics of the New Hollywood era, sticks with you. It lurks in your mind long after the final, haunting freeze frame fades to black. Indeed, far more The Deer Hunter than Heaven's Gate.

An absolutely astounding piece of filmmaking, brought forth from deep down within the hearts of those involved, this has cinematic classic written all over it.

Quite simply, 10 out of 10.

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