Sunday, June 13, 2010

Movie Review - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

When you think of a Western, the first thing to usually pop into your head is a shootout. Shootouts and Westerns go together like Star Wars films and lightsaber duels; they're more or less the focus of both. Also typical of Westerns are bar fights, carriage robberies, Mexican standoffs, horse chases and lassoing. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford has none of those. This isn't a Sergio Leone gunslinging epic, in fact guns are only drawn a few brief times in the whole film. This is a film that focuses on acting, cinematagrophy and dialogue to tell an amazing story that just happens to be set in the Old American West.

First off, the acting here is some of the finest I have ever seen. Brad Pitt, as Jesse James gives a performance that is up there with some of the all time greats, going form insane to gentle and back again with an ease that I've rarely seen. This is definitely one of the highlights of his entire career in my mind. Casey Affleck, playing Robert Ford is just as good though, giving something of an eerie and uneasy feel to his character that adds to the entire feel of the movie. While these two are the powerhouses, every single actor/actress here is in top form and leaves nothing to be desired. It's rare that such a large cast does such a brilliant job all around.

Secondly is the cinematagrophy, which is as brilliant as the acting. I've only seen a few movies shot this well and with minimal digital assistance (if any). The colors and lighting are honestly perfect, and coupled with the actual camera-work perfectly set the tone for the whole movie. Real feelings of nostalgia, dreariness and unease are made real simply through the cinematagrophy. 10/10 for every shot being nothing less than beautiful.

Lastly is the dialogue. Dialogue is a big point for me in movies, and this film certainly delivers. While hard to understand some of the soft, southern-accented mutterings, the dialogue here is top notch in every way. Banter between Jesse and Robert Ford turns deadly and back to normal with almost frightening ease. Like the cinematagrophy, every line is carefully crafted to fit perfectly with the scene at hand.

Another element of the movie that is probably my favorite is the score, done by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The music here is beautiful, perfectly and brilliantly capturing the sad, nostalgic feel of the movie and giving a real dreamy quality to the films narration. Comprised of mostly piano and violins, these sad and haunting tunes are another of the pieces that really make this movie so good. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis are fantastic artists, and in my opinion this is their best soundtrack they've yet made. Sad, ominous, eerie, the duo does it all here.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is definitely not for those seeking a standard shoot-em-up western.When the violence does emerge though, it is in very brief and intense blasts, sometimes lasting no longer than a gunshot. This movie is long, and very slow; I'd actually say one of the longest and slowest I've seen.  It is also one of the most dreary movies I've seen; there's no cheer or laughter or comic relief to be found here. It can drag on at times, particularly towards the middle of the movie, so viewers beware. However, a combination of some of the best acting and cinematagrophy make this a must see, in my opinion. Devoid of any cliches of the Western genre, this film is one of my favorites and a movie I highly recommend.

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