The Assassination of Jesse James… (2007)
In 2007 Andrew Dominik brought us one of the most beautiful pieces of storytelling in history. The recounting of the life and death of Jesse James starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck in the roles of the main characters is completely hypnotizing. The performance from Brad Pitt as Jesse James is just another in a litany of world-class turns from the legendary actor. Pitt has for a long time now held a place in the upper echelons of Hollywood’s finest character actors. The evolution of the man over the years is just something to behold.
Even though Pitt puts in an absolutely sublime performance in the lead it is actually Casey Affleck’s star that shines the brightest from this stellar cast. His portrayal of the tormented assassin Robert Ford is out of this world. The way he emotes pain, bitterness, and the constant inner struggle he feels over the man he idolizes is awe-strikingly good. It is the truest case of how one should never meet their heroes. The relationship between the two men is so complex and gripping. The scenes they share are just brimming with an undercurrent of disdain and loathing. The loathing they feel is as much for themselves as one another. They see their reflection in each other, and even though they hate what they see they can not look away.
The Assassination of Jesse James… holds a real strength in not just its leads but in the entire cast as a whole. The supporting cast is just an embarrassment of riches, containing the likes of Jeremy Renner, Sam Rockwell, Mary-Louise Parker, Garret Dillahunt, and Sam Shepard just to name a few. It is the definition of a stacked cast and each actor excels no matter the size of the role that they find themselves in. Wherever you look throughout this movie there is nothing but quality, every corner is chock full with it and it makes The Assassination of Jesse James… an instant classic.
Andrew Dominik crafted a wild west Shakespearean tragedy. He penned the personification of prairie time poetry, constructing a complex character study. Dominik shined a light on the innermost turmoil that we all feel. He peeled back the layers that lay on top of the legend and laid bare the real humans beneath the lore. Dominik told a story filled with flawed and tragic people, doing it in the most astonishing way possible and in turn, may have created a Western without equal.
In the end, the conclusion I come to is that I firmly believe that even though we move further and further away from the era of the Wild West that there are still so many tales to tell. That this genre has and always will be a staple of the cinematic experience. It has taken on so many forms throughout the decades and will continue to evolve. It is the last remaining vestige of folkloric freedom—a symbol of what is possible no matter the odds.
To me, this symbol of freedom to explore and discover is something that will always resonate. These Western tales I have chosen I believe are not only the best modern representations of this, but also of the transformation of the genre as a whole.
I believe that these are the best of the modern age of the Western and if you don’t agree with me I would love to debate the issue. Until that time that’s bye, for now. These are my favorite modern Westerns. If you feel so inclined I would love to hear from you all and see what movies have made your lists from the past two decades of exploring the Wild West.