Quick Reviews: Jane Eyre and the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

jane eyre and the assassination of jesse james by the coward robert ford

It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve seen a movie in the theater, but there’s just nothing playing where I am. I might go see Kingsman: The Secret Service if I get really desperate. Otherwise, it looks like I’ll just have to wait until Chappie is released in early March. Anyway. Since the local theaters are full of American Sniper GarbageFifty Shades of AbuseThe Spongebob Movie, and Jupiter Ascending right now, I’m stuck watching films on Netflix and Amazon instant instead. Damn it, February.

Up Today: Jane Eyre and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Quick Take: Jane Eyre is a well-acted and visually gorgeous film that offers a largely successful and properly restrained adaptation of its source material. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a dark, beautiful, and smartly written postmodern western that features stunning visuals as well as a pair of incredible performances from its 2 leads. 

Jane Eyre (2011)
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Watched on Feb 10

I’m not really sure why I decided to watch Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre when I saw it on Netflix, but I did, so here we are.

While many reviewers of this film discuss it in comparison to one or more of the many other adaptations of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, I will not be doing so; while I do faintly recall watching a mini series starring Ruth Wilson in high school, I have no useful memory of it (or of its source material). So, now you know.

One of the best things about Jane Eyre is the way that its shot (I mean this as a compliment, not as slight). The film is visually striking, and its shots of the landscape are especially memorable. The film’s visuals also establish and maintain the mood of this Gothic romance quite wonderfully—a strange darkness and gloom pervade the film’s images, but they only serve to make that which they touch more alluring. The film’s visuals are often cold, atmospheric, and sublime, and they create a world that envelops viewers and in which the actions of Eyre and Rochester make all sense in the world.

The film’s gorgeous visuals are reinforced and further elevated by Dario Marianelli’s haunting, beautiful, and somewhat mournful score. His work here is more subtle than in the more recent Anna Karenina, but it is just what Jane Eyre‘s story calls for.

As Jane Eyre herself, Mia Wasikowska gives the film’s strongest and most successful performance. Her Jane is intense and quiet, shy and confident, and so much more all at once. Wasikowska brings just the right amount of emotion to the role and portrays Bronte’s almost impossibly complex heroine quite wonderfully. As one might expect, Michael Fassbender also gives a fine performance as the dark and enigmatic Rochester. Even when he is being affectionate, there is something strangely threatening about him, which works perfectly here. The scenes between Fassbender and Wasikowska are the film’s best (as they should be). Together, these two actors manage to be emotionally controlled and vulnerable all at once, and are both incredibly magnetic on screen. 

I was also impressed with Jaime Bell’s work in the film; while the part of St. John is a smaller one, he certainly leaves an impression (as does Judi Dench, though to a somewhat lesser extent). 

While Fukunaga’s film is largely successful, it does suffer from a few pacing problems. The first portion of the film takes its time setting up its frame narrative; given the mood, the atmosphere, and the controlled emotions of the film, this slower pace works quite well. Unfortunately, Jane Eyre begins to speed things up considerably in its final sections, and it does so to its own detriment. In particular, the plot concerning Rochester’s secret mad wife is a bit too rushed and under developed. I understand that Bronte’s novel is in many ways too large for a feature film, but at just 2 hours, his Jane Eyre could have been a little less condensed than it is.
Get Jane Eyre on Blu-ray. 

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Directed by Andrew Dominik
Watched on Feb 12

JFC 2007 was a ridiculously good year for movies. Also, why the hell did it take me this long to get around to watching The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford? (Henceforth, I’ll shorten that monster of a title to The Assassination).

Dominik’s 2007 film is a beautiful and cynical tragedy that does double duty as an intriguing character study and as a cutting examination of celebrity and fame.

The Assassination is an incredibly beautiful and well-shot film. The legendary Roger Deakins was the Cinematographer/DP for  the film, and it is perhaps one the best examples of his abilities. The landscapes in this somewhat quiet and often deliberately anti-climactic western are gorgeous and intimidating all at once—are something to be admired as well as tamed. In fact, the beauty, the grandeur, and the wildness of the land in this film often seems to dwarf its characters; the mere men portrayed in The Assassinatioare nothing compared to their surroundings. Deakins also works with a largely muted palette (the only real colors are the occasional blue of the sky and the yellow of the grass) which reflects the somber mood of the film quite beautifully.

As the increasingly paranoid and world-weary Jesse James, Brad Pitt gives one of the best performances of his life. In Dominik’s film, James is an alluring and enigmatic legend, a tired and very human man, and a threatening monster all rolled into one—Pitt conveys this wonderfully and with great skill, and his performance (like the film more generally) is never over-the-top. Casey Affleck (somewhat to my surprise) also does absolutely fantastic work in this film. As the wannabe-gunslinger and Jesse James fanatic, Bob Ford, Affleck gives an incredibly complex performance; he is likable and repulsive all at once, and he manages to come across as both serious and naive in a genuine and well-restrained manner.

If one were to try to find fault in this film, it would probably lie in its length and/or pacing. At 160 minutes, The Assassination is no small film; though, given the scope of what it tries to capture, its length feel appropriate for the most part. That said (and while the film as a whole is wonderfully successful), the section of the film after Jesse’s death (not a spoiler, it’s in the title) does not quite live up to much of what proceeds it. While this final section of The Assassination does serve an important narrative function while also fleshing out what the film has to say about its primary characters, it could have probably been reduced in length. With Jesse gone, The Assassination begins to feel a little too much like a balloon with the air let out of it—then again, that’s probably part of the point.

As is the case with most great films, The Assassination is much more than the sum of its parts; as many times as I compliment the way this film is shot, the complexity of the performances it features, or the quality of the story that it tells, I simply cannot fully convey here what it is like to watch this film. There is something truly sublime and ineffable about it, and I can’t wait to watch it again. (The train robbery sequence alone is worth the running time).

Oh, and back to that monster of a title. It does more than give the narrative climax away from the outset. It also changes the way that viewers watch the film. From the moment Bob Ford is introduced, we pay very close attention to him and begin looking for reasons that he might have to eventually kill Jesse. Of course, this search quickly turns up a problem: Bob is obsessed with Jesse and seems to be his biggest fan. He has no problem with the man’s crimes; in fact, he wishes that he had been involved in them. So why does this man who grew up idolizing James eventually kill him? Well, the full answer is too complicated for a short review, but it does seem to have something to do with the fact that, after meeting Jesse face-to-face and after accepting that he’s just a human, Bob realizes that he cares far more for the fame that he associates with Jesse than he does for the man himself.
Watch The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford now. 

Until Next Time
Thank you so much for reading. Don’t forget that you can keep up with what I’m watching by following me on letterboxd or that I love it when you guys leave comments (seriously, go ahead and leave a comment if you feel so inclined).

4 thoughts on “Quick Reviews: Jane Eyre and the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s