Monday, 14 January 2008

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

Filtered through the distorting glass of domestic interiors, 'The Assassination of Jesse James' is a ponderous study of fame and obsession and, in generic terms, it acts as yet another coda for the American Western.

Director Andrew Dominik uses elements of the classical Western, dispersing them as ciphers throughout an engrossing, meandering eulogy. Framed in a homestead doorway, Jesse James appears over an icy hill like Ethan Edwards in Ford’s 'The Searchers' (1956). Ethan was doomed to wander alone through the wilderness but for Jesse there is no longer any wilderness; the cities and the expanding ‘civilised’ society of the Republicans have consumed the world that he knew, leaving him as a character in his own existential burlesque. There is no Technicolor in James’ world, just muted grey, mud, ice, snow and a Nick Cave soundtrack.

Casey Affleck plays Robert Ford, limp and troubled (although not as dynamic) as Paul Newman’s Billy the Kid in ‘The Left Handed Gun’ (1958) – an alienated teenager looking to understand the world through his obsession with the chimera of James, the outlaw.

'The Assassination of Jesse James' is a brave attempt to explore contemporary American society through the metaphorical suicide of its own mythology - it will be interesting to see if, in the future, more Hollywood films attempt to deal with the sublime as opposed to the subliminal.

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