Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What History Decides

When I first saw UNFORGIVEN back in 1992, someone asked me how it was and I surprised myself by simply saying, “It’s the best western made since I was born.” I still believe that statement.

I’m feeling a little hesitant to apply such hyperbole to THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD. Maybe it’s just not that kind of movie. Maybe simply referring to it as a Western doesn't seem totally appropriate. The names of Malick, Peckinpah, Cimino and others are very evident in terms of where this movie is coming from but ultimately we have to judge the film on its own terms. And the ultimate power it holds is difficult to ignore, but it’s the sort of power that I feel deep down within more than anything else. It’s not the sort of film where fans jump up and down after seeing it. I imagine it a little more like two people meeting and agreeing to their reaction, silently nodding to this fact, because there’s very little else to say.

Instead of launching into superlatives about the names involved I could simply list off people such as Andrew Dominck, Roger Deakins, Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Mary-Louise Parker, Michael Parks, James Carville, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Dylan Tichenor, Curtiss Clayton, Hugh Ross and others. I feel like that’s about all I need to say.

Sometimes you’re faced with a movie that, on first viewing, has some scenes or some beats that you feel unsure about, sections where you feel slightly lost in the narrative. But for the rest of it you feel so transported, so entranced, that you feel reminded what it really feels like to see a film that feels different, in some ways other, than what you have seen before. And suddenly the dream of cinema doesn’t seem too farfetched. Your passion for it is still alive.

What I’m getting at is that I think THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD is a sort of masterpiece, but I’m holding back a little. Partly because I know that some people simply aren’t going to be receptive to it, they’re not going to dive into the deep end and wade through it. It’s also because I feel hesitant to overthink it at the moment. Right now I just want to let this, what the hell, work of art sit in my head and linger. I’ll see it again soon enough. All I’m saying for now is that these feelings about a new film don’t happen all the time. I don’t know what the overall response to it will be, but I know that part of what matters will ultimately be what history decides about this film. Which seems fitting, considering what it tells us about its characters, our own history and ourselves. For now, my biggest worry is that I may be underrating it.

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