Wednesday, 2 April 2008

On DVD: The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - Review by Robert Duffin

Director: Andrew Dominik
Screenwriter: Andrew Dominik
Running Time: 160
Certificate: 15
DVD Distributor: Warner Home Video

Long considered dead, the Western has seen somewhat of a revival in the last few years. While many see Unforgiven as the eulogy to a departed genre, we have been afforded such classics recently as The Three Burials of Melquiedas Estrada and The Proposition to confirm that there’s life in the Old West yet. What we had in 2007 however was not merely modern filmmakers flirting with aged cinematic conventions. Not since the battle between High Noon and Rio Bravo has the Western been so politically charged, acting as a mirror reflecting on society and cultural values. While There Will Be Blood weaved an allegorical tale of the battle between capitalism and religion and No Country For Old Men presented a treatise on societies inherent evils, Jesse James is about perils and pitfalls of celebrity and mythmaking.

Primarily it’s a story about hero-worship. Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) is a 19th Century fanboy, collecting cheap paperback stories about the daring James Gang, led by the enigmatic and undoubtedly alluring Jesse (Brad Pitt). This incarnation of James is an egomaniac that has bought into his own legend and believes himself invulnerable. The tragedy of the character is that he is no longer the legend who fought with Confederate mercenaries but is instead simply bandit running around with a gang of incompetents. Pitt is typically twitchy in the role, echoing his manic turns in 12 Monkeys and Fight Club, but in his quieter pensive moments evokes the broken spirit of the would be legend.

Far more interesting is the character crafted by the magnetic Casey Affleck, the true star of the show. Robert Ford is a nobody who dreams of the adoration afforded his hero, and the attempts to position himself under the wing of Jesse James are cringe worthy to watch. Even though the James myth is eventually laid bare before him as a media ruse, Ford still craves the empty fame of his idol and enters into a complicit dance of death, which results in the titular assassination. James, apparently intent or writing his own history, seems to set up his own demise, which suits the weasel Ford who even in his most famous hour is revealed to be weak. Although Ford goes on to achieve the fame he craved, it is ultimately his undoing and not on his own terms, leading to history condemning him forever, trapped in and damned by the myth he yearned for.

Long time Coen Brothers collaborator Roger Deakins, capturing the legend and myth of the James gang, uses deliberate softness around the edge of the image to recreate the photography of the time in this beautifully lensed film. The train robbery sequence might be the most gorgeous image captured on screen this year. Dominik’s second film is a marvellous effort, referencing genre touchstones from The Searchers to the work of Sergio Leone, and mixing to great effect visual poetry, brutal satire and gritty realism. Disastrous box office aside, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford will be remembered for years to come.

DVD Special Features:

The 1-Disc Edition is a barebones release. The 2-Disc limited collector's edition of The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford contains the following extras:-

A hard-back premium packaging with a 44-page book all about the film, the legend and the characters- A bonus disc featuring the documentary Death of An Outlaw that examines the life and death of the real Jesse James and includes interviews with all the key cast and filmmakers.

No comments: