Andrew Dominik, the director of the film did a great job capturing the presence of Jesse James, as well as the vulnerability of Robert Ford, making this seemingly slow drama turn into something much more; great character study. With this, he also brought some of the most astounding atmosphere of the year, with beautiful shots and memorable scenes. Thought the film is 160 minutes long, and could have been shorter, I am glad it wasn’t shortened, because the film was great the way it was. Sure, a few scenes dragged on, but the dialog and acting made those extra minutes worth it.
As well as directing the film, Andrew Dominik adapted the novel by Ron Hansen. I have not read the novel, but I must say that the dialog is some of the best of the year, and possibly the decade. As I stated earlier, great character development made this film seem like it was 90 minutes long, and the multiple stories only made the film more interesting. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised at how big Paul Schneider’s role was, considering he is 10th billed on the cast listing. Well, after this specticle of a film, I now want to see Dominik’s only other writing/directing credit, which is for the film Chopper.
Onto the acting, which really pushed me to see the film, if not for anything else. You’ve got Brad Pitt & Casey Affleck in their most acclaimed performances, as well as a stellar supporting crew to boot. I will just list the best performances because there are just too many to comment on.
Given the time that Zooey Deschanel had, she did do a good job, but if I didn’t look up the cast, I wouldn’t of realized it was her in that role, though she did seem very familiar. She had something like two minutes of screentime (at most), and was very good in both of her scenes, though I found them unnecessary.
Mary-Louise Parker plays Jesse James’ wife “Zee“, in her first theatrical acting performance in a few years. I must say, she didn’t overly impress me with the amount of time she had on the screen. A few good scenes, but overall a typical, bland performance.
Garret Dillahunt plays one of the bandits “Ed Miller“. Now, his performance was good, considering the amount of time he was given, but something really bothered me, and that was he looked too much like Casey Affleck. It only bothered me because I kept getting the two confused until someone said the character’s name. At first glance, I just assumed he was an older version of Robert Ford, which threw me off a few times. If anything, they should’ve casted him in Rockwell’s role.
Sam Rockwell plays “Charley Ford“, and does the role with such diversity it makes me sad that this man is not a more known name in Hollywood. He turns out great performance after great performance, only to be unrecognized because either the film was too small, or because the rest of the cast makes him unnoticed. If it weren’t for Affleck, I would say that Rockwell would have easily slipped into this year’s potential supporting nominees. To be honest, I thought that his character had more to work with than Affleck’s, because his character goes through immense changes in a relatively average amount of time, whereas Affleck’s goes through subtle, but evergrowing changes throughout a large amount of time.
Paul Schneider plays “Dick Liddil“, my personal favourite character of the film. He creates a great performances out of very little to work with. Constantly playing off his co-workers with such poise, it is in my opinion that this man will become a future Oscar nominee in the future. Like Rockwell, he is very underrated, but mainly because a lot of people don’t even see his films. I saw Live Free or Die earlier this year, and he was the best part of that mediocre film, and for that reason alone, people should watch it, to see this young actor bloom.
Now onto the 2 reasons everyone wants to see this film, Pitt & Affleck. These 2 actors played off their counterparts extremely well, and if it weren’t for that I wouldn’t of found anything about their performances that amazing, more so for Pitt.
Brad Pitt plays “Jesse James“, the ruthless gunslinging, backstabbing, trainrobbing vigilante. For the most part, he plays this man very subtly. It isn’t until the last third of the film that he truly transforms into the madman many people thought Jesse James was, which was very, very compelling. Personally, I don’t consider his performance ‘oscar-worthy’, but seeing as it is one of the betters ones of the year, I wouldn’t be disappointed if he was nominated.
Casey Affleck plays “Robert Ford“, one of the most interesting real-life characters in a long time. Again, another very subtle performance, only made better by Affleck’s ability to create such a presence in such a silent way. He does this by adding quirkiness to the role, making him standout a lot more than if he were just hush-hush the entire time. Certainly one of the best performances of the year, whether you consider him leading or supporting.
The technicals of the film were breathtaking. From the ragged, tattered clothing of the traditional western sense, to elegant suits and bodacious dresses. Alike the clothing, the art decoration was setup the same way. With dirty, decrepit shacks that symbolize the carelessness of these ‘thugs’ as one would say, to high class ballrooms, with fancy chandeliers, and gorgeous decor surrounding the already astounding room.
The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who did the score for last year’s western The Proposition, shine yet again with a very touching, as well as menacing score. Though I did appreciate the fact that it was well used at times, I thought that it was used too much throughout the film. The first two times were fine, that made the scenes standout, but after those first few times it was used, it just got annoying. For only this reason, the score lost a lot of merit in my mind. Personally, I prefer the score from the film entitled “What Must Be Done”.
The best tech of the film was by far the cinematography, done by one of the best cinematographers in cinema today, Roger Deakins, who did just a phenomenal job. There were a lot of beautiful scenes, that may come off as pointless and repetitive, but do have meaning if you look deeper. From the mouthwatering winter sequences, to the eye-widening sky shots, this film was always a treat to look at.
Nominations for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Best Picture – (#2)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Casey Affleck (#4)
Best Director – Andrew Dominik (#5)
Best Adapted Screenplay – Andrew Dominik (#2)
Best Cinematography – (#2)