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The Assassination of Jesse James
Genre Western
Year: 2007

The Assassination of Jesse James is a beautiful Western from Andrew Dominik (Chopper). Dominik adapts Hansen’s book into a vivid story about heroics and cowardice from the perspective of Robert Ford (Affleck). Young Robert Ford hero worships Jesse James and grows to resent his outlaw hero as he stuggles to join the gang. The script is written with authentic language and lyrical narration. The actors harness the Missouri accents with relative ease and develop full-bodied characters.

Casey Affleck was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Robert Ford, and it’s definitely a career best for him. He’s come a long way since the days of American Pie and To Die For. This performance adds to his repertoire of fine performances alongside Lonesome Jim and Gone Baby Gone. He’s supported by Brad Pitt and Sam Rockwell, whose roles as Jesse James and Charley Ford are both tactful and convincing. You would be forgiven for thinking the Pitt was the focal point, since most of the marketing and the title character was built around him. This created the right conditions to allow a “bottom-feeder” to rise up.

The film isn’t action-orientated like many Westerns, but chooses to languish in the moment. Nature plays an important part in translating emotion and cold skies and splashes of water are given their dues. This makes The Assassination of Jesse James seem more art house than commerical and Dominik isn’t in any hurry to reach the grand finale.

At 160 minutes, the film is an art house epic and gives the audience enough time to embrace the characters and get familiar with the language and old world values of the West. The performances are crisp, the cinematography is elemental, the script crackles with The Old West and the story unravels like an old Wanted poster. Pitt and Affleck provide plenty of backbone, but it’s Andrew Dominik who comes out on top. His writing and direction flesh out a Western that redefine the genre. The legend of The West and the realities of a cold, cruel world etch out a beautiful film that swathes itself in landscapes and facial expressions. This is not your typical Western and if Leone had spaghetti, one wonders what New Zealand-born Dominik will be serving.

The bottom line: Poetic.

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