The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

by British Film Critic

The western genre is almost certainly one of my favourites out there, perhaps entirely due to how dynamic it is, how effectively it can be moulded and carved to fit the vision of the individuals behind the camera, and how well it adjusts to the time in which it is made – The Assassination Of Jesse James served as a prime reminder of each and every one of those things.

In mere moments, you’re taken into the cold, unfeeling arms of this far from familiar, more so wicked than Wild West, one that is almost frightening in the perfectionist attention to detail that Deakins retains in capturing the aesthetic of the era, from the colour palette to the visual nods to iconic westerns of yesteryear. What makes the film so outstanding however is how it approaches its genre, and how it approaches its world, and subsequently its characters. Dominik looks closely at the dangers of mythologising individuals, and the harsh reality of history, of what it feels like to realise that your idols, your monoliths of all that is good and righteous, are merely flesh and blood, when push comes to shove.

It’s a gruelling realisation and direction to be sure, but one that works, and feels so natural in its progression from where the Western genre began so many years ago. We hear the stories of Jesse James, and we see them through the lens of someone who admired him most, and that very reason makes our emotional journey throughout the film as impactful, and as visceral as it is.

Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck are nothing short of phenomenal – their chemistry is palpable, their progressions are so very compelling, and maybe above all, their ability to communicate with something as simple as a glance is remarkable. If you want a Western, in what most people mean when they say Western, you’re probably be sorely disappointed with this film, but if you want a patient, calm, visually astounding revisionist Western that carries the genre onto the 21st century, then this is the film for you.