Sam Rockwell

A is for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), who’s idolised Jesse James (Brad Pitt) since childhood, tries hard to join the reforming gang of the Missouri outlaw, but gradually becomes resentful of the bandit leader.

The way this film unfolds is interesting. It’s narrated by Hugh Ross and with his dulcet tones and the way this film is beautifully shot by Roger Deakins, it almost feels unreal. Like this tale of the legendary outlaw is a myth or legend and even as you get to know more of the man, everyone’s reactions to him and the aura he has makes him seem like he’s more than just a man.

The cinematography in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford really is gorgeous. Couple it with a score that’s often haunting, it makes the wide-open plains of the Midwest beautiful and lonely.

The cast is great, with the likes of Jeremy Renner and Sam Rockwell give strong performances throughout. However, naturally there are few female characters here, but Mary-Louise Parker does what she can with what she’s given as James’ wife. Casey Affleck plays the many sides to Robert Ford very well. The jealousy, the bitterness, the idealisation, the nativity – he’s unsettling to watch due to his obsession with James and by the end of it, you find you may have more sympathy for him than a lot of the people who surround him do. Affleck is great but it’s Brad Pitt who is truly mesmerising. He is fantastic as Jesse James. There’s an underlying tension nearly every time he’s on screen due to his intensity that’s simmering beneath a calm exterior. It’s because James is so smart and paranoid that even when characters don’t have something to hide, they act as if they do.

While there are gunfights and a train robbery, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is more of a slow character study of the two titular roles. That means it can be a bit hard to get into to begin with, but it’s well worth sticking with it and fully immersing yourself into this snapshot in time.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a slow but thoughtful take on a legendary outlaw and the man who killed him. 4/5.

REVIEW: Woman Walks Ahead (2017)

Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain), a painter from 1980s New York, travels to Dakota to paint the portrait of Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes) and becomes invested in the Lakota peoples’ struggle to keep their land.

The direction and script hit all the usual biopic buttons but it’s the relationship between and performances from the two leads that really stands out in Woman Walks Ahead. Jessica Chastain is brilliant as Catherine Weldon, she’s a determined woman but she also has her fears and makes mistakes as she attempts to learn about the Lakota people. Michael Greyeyes’s is steely and calm as Sitting Bull but there’s also a wit to him. There’s a surprising amount of amusing moments between Sitting Bull and Weldon as they get to know one another. Their relationship is one of deep friendship, but there’s also those hints of something more, if life was kinder.

The wide-open spaces of Dakota’s plains and the ever-changing sky is both harsh and beautiful. It’s a fitting setting for this story as Catherine see’s the beauty in things that most people would not, and the story of the Lakota people’s struggles is one that’s deeply tragic and the film never shies away from the atrocities committed.

As the focus is so much on Weldon and Sitting Bull, the military personnel who are all the villains of the piece, are largely cardboard cut-outs of characters. Though Sam Rockwell’s Colonel Silas Groves is an intriguing character, the reveals about his backstory comes too late to have a lasting impact. Groves and the other military men are deeply racist and when the film attempts to show Groves in a better light, it ultimately falls flat.

Woman Walks Ahead is based on a true story about an unlikely and touching friendship. The performances and cinematography are both beautiful and often haunting, but unfortunately they don’t quite elevate this film to greatness. 3/5.

REVIEW: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Seven months after the murder of her daughter, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) challenges the local authorities, who have not caught the culprit, by promoting the injustice on three billboards on the road to her hometown.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is from writer and director Martin McDonagh. This is the man behind In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, so if you have seen them, you’ll now at least a little of what to expect from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – which is black comedy, drama and violence.

Frances McDormand is brilliant as the vengeful and hurting Mildred. She’s a woman in pain who wants justice and is not afraid to cause pain and distress in order to get it. Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is trying to be understanding with what Mildred is going through, and does his best to explain that there just isn’t the evidence to catch her daughters killer, while struggling with his own demons and an unruly police force. Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is a racist and violent cop and is no way a good guy and the film doesn’t paint him like one. He’s the main antagonist of this story, hurting anyone close to Mildred in order to get to her.

That’s the thing about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, none of the characters are particularly likeable and all of them are very angry and mean. While you understand Mildred’s frustration it doesn’t mean she’s doing the right thing, and while Dixon does evolve as a person, he’s never completely changed or “good”, he’s still the disgusting and dangerous person he always was, just changed slightly.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is funny but it’s also super dark – the script manages to balance these two elements really well. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is tough to watch at times, remembering a scene at a dentist still makes me shudder, but the incredible performances pull you into the story and gives you a memorable film. 5/5.