Guest post featuring Richard Mead
I’d like to welcome my newest guest blogger! Meet Richard Mead. He will be writing monthly movie reviews for my blog, and his goal is to try to open people’s eyes to films they wouldn’t normally go out of their way to see. Many of the films he will review will never make it out of the film festival circuit, and he wants to help movie lovers broaden their horizons.
Please feel welcome to add comments or questions in response. I’ll make sure he receives them and has the opportunity to respond.
So take a peek at his first post, consider adding these films to your “must watch” list, and keep an eye out each month for another film review!
“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” hits home for those who can handle it
“There would be no eulogies for Bob, no photographs of his body would be sold in sundries stores, no people would crowd the streets isn the rain to see his funeral cortège. No biographies would be written about him, no children named after him, no one would ever pay twenty-five cents to stand in the rooms he grew up in.”
This line not only concludes the narrative of one of the most underrated films of 2007, but wholly describes the weight of each line delivered in the best dialog-driven western ever made.
“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is a film I have put off from seeing since first hearing about it shortly after its release in 2007. It wasn’t until I saw “Killing Them Softly” this year, another film I thought was underrated, that I knew I had to seek out more work from director Andrew Dominik.
I’m glad I did.
“The Assassination” stars Brad Pitt as real-life criminal Jesse James and Casey Affleck as the man who befriended and eventually killed him, Robert “Bob” Ford. The pairing of Pitt and Affleck was one I couldn’t really imagine carrying a film centered on conversation. It wasn’t until about 30 minutes into it I found how wrong I was; and by its conclusion, I was so impressed it even left me a bit shaken.
The film disguises its true form — a biographical period piece — behind the beautiful sheen of perfectly framed shots and clever camera work. In a movie so focused on what a character is saying, it was surprising how well the center of attention was taken off the dialog and focused on the immaculate picture in front of you. In simpler terms, this movie is freaking gorgeous.
Dominik frequently plays with camera focus and lighting, many times making all background blurry to extenuate a mood. Shots of James’ face creeping in and out of focus as he rocks back and forth in a chair are why I fell in love with the film’s cinematography.
From beginning to end, “The Assassination” is more “True Grit” than “Django: Unchained,” which may seem standoffish for a modern western. Most of the film takes place in between the pangs of gunfire, trading in saloon shootouts and horse-back confrontations for fire-side chatter and tongue-out-of-cheek quarrels.
But this doesn’t mean violence is absent, only sparring. “The Assassination” uses violence as almost a release of the tension created as a precursor. Each time a pistol is drawn, it’s to say a grim goodbye to a character the audience has grown accustomed to, which lends to the scene’s impact.
Both Pitt and Affleck’s performances are stellar, with Affleck turning in a role that put him a step above his brother, Ben, in my mind. Ford comes across as a scattered man, with determination in his eyes, but deceit in his mind. This portrayal was enough to earn him an Academy Award nomination, which I thought was well deserved. James was also well put together by Pitt, putting to screen a hardened man foreseeing his end, yet not fearing it. Every supporting performance also was solid, with Sam Rockwell being the most noteworthy.
The film’s narration is also worth mentioning. Hugh Ross, who also narrated “The Age of Adeline,” pushes the viewer’s mind past what’s on screen, while also giving the perfect amount of exposition and foreshadowing.
While this all may sound great, there is one thing to consider: “The Assassination” is certainly not for everyone. Its 160-minute runtime is daunting, while its speak-not-shoot mentality will bore shallow movie-goers. But those who take the time to immerse themselves in one of the most infamous betrayals in crime history will walk away with the same feeling in their chest as I did.
Richard Mead is a Michigan-based journalist and columnist who has accumulated over 300 published articles in the greater Big Rapids area. He has spent most of his young-adult life studying film and seeking out independent and over-looked movies to dissect. In short: Part-time pseudo critic, full-time film aficionado.