The Assassination of Jesse James: a History Lesson

I sought out The Assassination of Jesse James after being blown away by Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea. I was fully aware that Casey had ‘been around the block’, but hadn’t been able to suffer through the violent films he usually participated in.

But first, do you ever wonder what happens to your brain on a daily basis? Like my third Sofia review…what the hell happened? It was like my brain had a brown out, a dim wattage moment. I’ve since spruced it up, but was it dehydration? Pizza rather than popcorn for dinner? Let’s hope my foot bone preservation pool jogging this morning doesn’t have the same ill effects on my writing.

Andrew Dominik, director, of The Assassination of Jesse James, now to be abbreviated as TAOJJ, has done two other films I’d be willing to check out based on the quality of TAOJJ. The Nick Caves doc, which sadly can not be had via the library system This Time With More Feeling and what sounds like violence galore (I’ll shut my eyes, as I did with TAOJJ) Killing Them Softly.

So about TAOJJ. At first, the corny narration and blurried frame sequences made me feel like I was watching a lesser Ken Burns PBS special. But I got use to it and I understand that it was the best way to impart a lot of back story in little time. The ending(S) were a tiny bit tedious, but again, I get it. Dominik wanted to show the ‘rest of the story’ and chose to do it in shorter vignettes.

And what a sad tale it was…I mean when I hear Jesse James, sure I know of the bank robber, but my first thought always goes to that philandering tattooed scoundrel who was married to Sandra Bullock. But based on my historical learning from this film-poor Bob Ford! Talk about no good deed goes unpunished! Hence the annoying subtitle I didn’t bother you with earlier: “By the Coward Robert Ford”.

Casey was off the charts and should be eclipsing his big bro by now…who cares about Ben, besides the dimwitted woman who just left her husband for him. Casey’s part was also far richer than that of Jesse James himself, though played well by power house Brad Pitt.

Equally good were the other supporting roles: Paul Schneider who I’m getting to know more and more after bragging about him in Bright Star (next up Lars and the Real Girl, based on his IMDB page), Sam (my #2 man in the world) Rockwell and someone I’ve never seen before, Garret Dillahunt who was tremendous as bunny scared Ed Miller. I’ll be checking him out on The Guest Book, a Community looking TBS show premiering August 3rd.

So I learned some history and got to see Casey Affleck agonize in another gorgeous portrayal over having to kill his hero. Bravo!

The Nearness of You: Bright Star, a 2009 Perfection

I started having a fantasy the year James Taylor came out with his version of Glenn Miller’s classic “The Nearness of You”. The fantasy was simple, a slow dance with the man I love (preferably in moonlight or candle light). The man I was dating at the time, a sensitive itinerant painter who would not sleep next to me for fear of ‘losing his artistic edge’, not surprisingly told me he was not a dancer.(this was the mid 2000’s and he’s since gotten married and had children).

Watching Jane Campion’s beautiful film Bright Star from 2009, reminded me of this relationship. First, John Keats was also a very sensitive artist who, along with his buddy Mr. Brown, guarded his own artistic milieu. Second, the movie occurred in an era when people were near each other log enough for feeling to simmer and grow to a full boil, without pressure or distraction. This was the case with my relationship, too. Sure it wasn’t the 1800’s, but it was the aughts, pre-internet frenzy and while I don’t necessarily want reminders, I have fond memories, if that makes any sense.

But, to me, Bright Star was even better than The Piano, Campion’s other more famous film. The movie was a perfect depiction of an era when finances and romance were intricately entwined. Due to the fine trio of actors, never did I think ‘this is maudlin’ or sappy. Abby Cornish was terrific, a look alike to Lindsay Lohan, as Fanny Brawne. Ben Whishaw, equally great as the sickly Keats. And Paul Schneider, terrific as the womanizing deviant and Keats cock blocker, Mr. Brown.

Looking up the actors, there’s not much with Cornish coming out that thrills me, nor past-RoboCop? But I wish I could re-watch scenes from The Lobster and The Danish Girl to catch Whishsaw, now that I have seen him at his best. I’ve now got two of Schneider’s on my library list; Rules Don’t Apply, last year’s Howard Hughes failure with Warren Beatty and The Assassination of Jesse James which I’ve heard is fantastic.

One of these days I’ll get back to read more about Keats and Brawne’s long, suffering relationship.