I was hoping for a chance to see The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Forda second time before I wrote my review, but only to confirm my suspicions that it's a surprising near-masterpiece, certainly one of the year's best films, and the best Western to come across the range since Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992) and Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man (1996). I had been looking forward to the film, mainly because 2007 had previously yielded two very good Westerns in Seraphim Falls and 3:10 to Yuma (we'll say nothing more about the wretched September Dawn). I had also admired New Zealand director Andrew Dominik's previous and only other feature, Chopper (2000). But none of this prepared me for the scope, artistry and brilliance of this new film.
The drawback is that the 160-minute The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is going to be one of those "difficult" movies that doesn't get the recognition it deserves, mainly because it can't be quickly explained or understood, or broken down into a 30-second sound byte. It's not a sweeping, spectacular epic, but rather a quiet, wintry epilogue. It will be critiqued with single words: "long," "boring," "confusing." Nevertheless, it's in good company with Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, Jane Campion's In the Cut, Gus Van Sant's Gerry, George A. Romero's Land of the Dead, Terrence Malick's The New World, Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia, Terry Zwigoff's Art School Confidential, Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, David Lynch's Inland Empire and William Friedkin's Bug -- all movies that will eventually have their day in the sun despite their current sad critical standing. The real hitch is that Jesse James chooses not to deconstruct the James myth, as would be the expected, rational approach in our post-modern age, but rather embraces it and expands on it.