Friday, February 08, 2008
DVD of the Week: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Part true life drama and part Americana fairytale, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford tells the story of the fabled Jesse James as a mixture of fact and fiction, wearing its heart on its sleeve as it tells of the many layers of his story and confesses that it may or may not always be telling truth, perhaps instead merely reinforcing James’ own myth. Brad Pitt gives what could be his finest performance as the renegade anti-hero James and Casey Affleck is even better as his obsessed fan turned enemy, Robert Ford. Director Andrew Dominik should be counted as one of the year’s best breakthrough directors given the subtle, sophisticated, and meticulous nature of his craft. He paints a portrait of James so deep in its own silence that it almost doesn’t require words to flesh out the character. The film also offers some of the most unforgettable visuals of any feature all year, including a sullen Pitt wrapped in serpents and an unforgettable robbery scene lit exclusively by train light. This a masterpiece of melancholy that offers us a more quietly vicious portrait of the old west than any I’ve seen. It’s also as much enamored of folklore as it is dedicated to dispelling its half truths. Certainly, we’re meant to see the weaker side of James here, the softer inner life. And yet, the film never patronizes him, or creates an “alternate” version of him for record books. It works in and around the lines already written by history, filling the voids of humanity left barren by the gun toting, no nonsense imagery offered to us over the years. We see the man behind the myth and yet the myth remains.