Stanley Kubrick took nineteen years to make his last three pictures; Terrence Malick waited twenty between making Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line. The seven years Andrew Dominik has waited between releasing Chopper (his memorable debut feature) and The Assassination of Jesse James seems almost paltry in comparison. That it is good enough to warrant him being mentioned with these two greats, however, is in no doubt.
Jesse James (Brad Pitt), the famous Confederate outlaw, a notorious bank robber and part of American folklore, has been a staple of the cinema since the 1920s. However, here, the focus is also placed on the less well-known Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), a young impressionable man who flits between intense admiration and jealousy of his friend Jesse.
That Robert Ford goes on to kill Jesse is clearly no secret, being shouted from the rooftops in the title itself. Andrew Dominik, however, takes this well-told legend and makes something utterly original out of it, constantly questioning the differences between the myth and the reality. It is here where the genius of this film lies. Nothing is as cut and dry as the title suggests.
It helps that he can call upon a series of talents all performing to the peak of their abilities. Brad Pitt hasn't been this good since Fight Club while Casey Affleck nearly steals the film from him, filling his performance with a great sympathy and understanding for the confused Ford.
Added to this is the wonderful cinematography of Roger Deakins (a frequent cinematographer for the Coen Brothers) and a memorable score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
And yet these contributions still go no way towards explaining the sheer power of this film. It takes a seemingly simple story and makes it heartbreaking. Its close to three hour running time will go unnoticed. In fact, it might just remind you why you fell in love with the cinema in the first place.
Released: March 31st 2008
DVD Extras: "Making of" documentary, Accompanying booklet.