capsule review: the assassination of jesse james by the coward robert ford

Cinematographer Roger Deakins, hand in hand with director Andrew Dominick (in an amazing sophomore effort) outdoes his work in No Country for Old Men with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Artistic without the artiness that comes with overreaching or the contrivance of using style as a sales pitch, the film is gorgeously rich with the quality of fine art.

And the story, perfectly paced to with the natural rhythms of dialogue - the words themselves and those telling silences filled with expressive facial and body language - is riveting. Far from indulging the romance surrounding the legend of Jesse James, the story offers a genersouly multifaceted character study where media spin collides with the morality and the politics of the personal. James, solidly portrayed by Pitt with a curious mixture of cruelty, melancholy, ruthlessness, tenderness, and a streak of instability, remains enigmatic to the end. But it is Ford who is the real subject of study. Casey Affleck certainly deserved an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a character who, though branded a coward, possessed considerable complexity. One might very well ask whether the dreaded yellow word was as deserved by Ford as James deserved to be spun as the Robin Hood. With Jesse's psychological terror at the center of a violent web, Ford's conflicting motivations - fame, fortune, fear, revenge - are magnetically rendered.

It's amazing to think that this Andrew Dominick's second film, after Chopper starring Eric Bana. (Never heard of it until looking up Dominick's IMDB entry.) Not only does the film show him capable of playing in the same league as the Coen Brother and P.T. Anderson, I'd go so far to say that The Assassination of etc, etc. was a worthier opponent to There Will Be Blood than No Country for Old Men. Better characters, a better story, equally great performances and direction...I regret having missed it while it played in theatres.

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