Andrew Dominik’s The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford (2007) is a majestic Western drama documenting the last months of legendary Wild West outlaw Jesse James. Based on the Ron Hansen novel by the same name and starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck in the roles of Jesse James and Robert Ford respectively, the contemplative film works as a psychological study of the two main characters and their increasingly tense relationship. To a certain extent, the superb cinematography of the North American bleak winter landscapes by DoP Roger Deakins and an equally gorgeous slow tempo soundtrack are almost taking centre stage.
Composed by Australian musician and author Nick Cave and long-time collaborator, multi-instrumentalist and Dirty Three front man Warren Ellis, the all instrumental hypnotic score underpins the oppressive atmosphere throughout the entire film. It is the second time the pair collaborate on a major feature film, having already scored John Hillcoat’s 2005 “Australian western” The Proposition. If the whole soundtrack is based around short repetitive motifs on the piano or violin and arranged for a string ensemble, the music remains anchored in roots and instrumental rock music with the presence of an electric bass on several tracks. The end result is a consistent and standalone piece of work, with many gems such as the elegiac “Song for Bob”:
An alternative Western devoid of the usual action scenes traditionally associated with the genre, The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford flopped at the box office on its release. But since then, the outstanding cast, stunning photography and magnificent score have more or less conferred a cult status on the film.
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