I missed the evening show of Manchester by the Sea because I misremembered the start time and got caught up watching Black Mirror episodes. But I still wanted to get bummed out watching a long Casey Affleck movie, so fortunately I had The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford handy. I don’t remember Casey from the Oceans trilogy or Interstellar, so this served as a reintroduction before Manchester, and both turned out to be stunner movies with great lead performances. If anyone is working on a Timothy Carey biopic, I nominate Casey as lead.

I’ve seen this story before, in Sam Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James, in which The Coward Robert Ford shoots his hero/boss Jesse in the back, then lives the rest of his short life as a famous outlaw-killer, reenacting his crime onstage. This movie fleshes out the gang much more, showing a Robert as a starstruck, excitable kid, the runt of the Fords, and Jesse as paranoid and dangerous.

After one last train robbery, the gang lays low. Jesse has a family with wife Mary-Louise Parker, lives in a forest house near Kansas City under a fake name, never got caught. Ol’ Frank James (Sam Shepard) and Charley (Sam Rockwell) make the weasely, weak-sounding Robert feel bad about his Jesse James hero-worship, but Jesse recruits Robert when the rest of his gang starts falling away and he gets nervous that someone will sell him out for reward money, visits old friend Garret Dillahunt and kills him. Meanwhile, Paul Schneider and Jeremy Renner are none too bright, compete for the attention of a teen girl, eventually have a huge falling out and Bob kills Renner and calls the cops on Schneider. Late appearance by James Carville as the governor, Nick Cave as a troubadour and Zooey “She” Deschanel.

Casey and Carville have a psychic battle:

Dominik and DP Roger Deakins don’t overdo the stylistic quirks, allowing the story and actors to do their thing against gorgeous landscapes, but the movie’s got its share of flair – shots with edges blurred like old-timey photographs, an occasional omniscient narrator.

Casey of the Clouds:

A. Cook:

On one side it mythologizes the transitionary period of American history via the fable-building narration and dreamy photography, and on the other it slowly and methodically demystifies the characters that populate it and the falsehood of celebrity. It is this contradiction that is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film and mirrors the inner-conflict of Robert Ford and his complex relationship with Jesse James.

“America’s not a country. It’s just a business.”

First movie I watched post-election. I only picked it because I liked Dominik’s Nick Cave movie this year and was looking for something that wouldn’t require much emotional energy on my part, so a Brad Pitt hit-man flick seemed to fit the bill. Turned out to be the ideal pick for my mood, full of perfectly cynical characters, using Obama’s hope-filled election speeches as ironic counterpoint.

Affleck ally Scoot McNairy and Aussie Ben Mendelsohn (Slow West) are hired by Sopranos regular Vincent Curatola to rob a card game run by Ray Liotta, assuming that Liotta will be blamed since he has admitted to robbing the game himself in the past. During the ensuing period of gangster and gambler mistrust, Richard Jenkins hires outsiders Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini to come down to New Orleans and kill whoever robbed the game (and kill Liotta too, just in case).

It’s usually not a visually dynamic movie, just excellent actors having serious conversations, but whenever Dominik gets a chance, he throws in an amazing setpiece – entracingly chopping editing in the opening titles segment, a freaked-out heroin scene, and Liotta getting shot in extreme slow-motion. Reminds of the Nick Cave movie, which mostly looks like a realist behind-the-scenes interview doc, but every once in a while the camera escapes through a knothole and into outer space. Based on a novel by The Friends of Eddie Coyle writer, and shot by Greig Fraser (Spider, Bright Star, the next Star Wars movie).

The best possible way to experience an album for the first time: as a one-night-only feature film, with some halting interview footage and rehearsals and home stuff, but also the songs played in full, with a different magnificent visual scheme for each.

J. Bleasdale:

Cave is someone who is stronger when he is singing. Likewise, the film becomes more cinematic at this point, creating essentially standalone footage of the songs, swooping through chinks in the studio wall to sail over the city.

It’s good to know a couple basic details of the Traumatic Event beforehand since the movie doesn’t spell it out – nobody’s here to talk about that, just about the process of getting through the aftermath, through the music and otherwise. Having some knowledge of the Event makes certain conversations, song lyrics and performances unbearably moving. That feeling seeped into the album when I first played it the next day, but I’m feeling it less as time passes since watching the movie version – maybe I need to stop listening to the album for a while.

J. Kiang:

Cave wrote the songs which appear on the new Bad Seeds album Skeleton Tree before Arthur’s death but recorded them afterward, and Dominik’s film is a document of that recording … The “event,” in Cave’s own words, instantly made him into another person, into “someone else inside my skin.” So the Cave we see singing is not the same Cave who wrote the words in his mouth, and yet the songs are all, every one of them, about dread and loss and love so sharp and yearning it feels like hurt. The uncanny resonances that the lyrics contain — and always contained — can be ascribed to the fact that Cave’s songwriting has always tended toward the doomy, but he suggests, with typically matter-of-fact mysticism, it’s also partly because his songs have elements of prophecy. That thought, of tragedy foretold, might be enough to drive another person mad, but like everything else in the jetstream of an unimaginable horror, the logic of the old you, the way you think you would behave if such-and-such occurred, is simply obliterated. It’s one of the reasons, Cave explains at the start of the film, why he’s moved away from narrative in his songwriting: he just doesn’t believe any more that life happens neatly, one thing then the next, the way it does in stories.

Dominik seems interesting. I vaguely recall watching his Chopper on DVD (to check out that Eric Bana guy before his Hulk movie opened), and IMDB says he did uncredited camera work on The New World.

G. Kenny:

As it happens, Cave himself commissioned the film on realizing that once the record was to be released, he would be obliged to promote it. He is still so seared by his trauma that he can’t bear the idea of being asked by journalists about it repeatedly; so this, then, is his communiqué, albeit a communiqué mediated by another genuine artist.