The Plank

The Assassination Of The Western


Over at The House Next Door, Ryland Walker-Knight argues that Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (which I still probably consider the best film of the year so far) "falters under its own weight and has less to say about Westerns than it does about celebrity culture." The first half of the critique is a common one, though to some degree a matter of individual temperment. But the second, I think, is a misreading of the movie, as its take on the Western mythos and celebrityhood is essentially that the latter displaced the former. As I argued in my review (still lost in the ether until our archives make it over to this server): 

Like most modern variations on the genre, The Assassination takes the form of an
elegy, not merely for the Old West but for the Western itself.... In [Sergio Leone's] Once Upon a Time in
the West, the gunmen who once bestrode the American wilderness were pushed aside by commerce and
technology, the relentless encroach of civilization. In Dominik’s more melancholy
telling, they were laid to rest by wannabes, boys with picture books and pop guns
and a gnawing hunger for notoriety. After Ford shoots James, he briefly becomes
a national icon—more recognized, for a time, than the president—but it is an
empty, parasitic fame, the ghost-twin of James’s legend. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is the
story of this transition, of the moment in America when myth was murdered by
mere celebrity and we were left, perhaps forever, with only the latter’s meager

--Christopher Orr 

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