There were four of us there - all women, all alone. They were perhaps lured by the prospect of Brad Pitt's blue eyes and sculpted abs. They were sadly disappointed. I was there to see what Jim Beaver called Ingmar Bergman's western. I was not.
What I saw and loved was a poem. An elegy to loss. A loss of innocence, loyalty, heroes, trust, brothers, and life itself.
We Americans love our Westerns. We love the romance of a cowboy riding alone for miles and miles. As I once said to a dear friend of mine, Cowboys don't have families. At least that's what we like to tell ourselves. But the truth is much harder to face.
The west was brutal, lonely, unbending. Trust in another wasn't given, it had to be earned. And even then it was a tenuous trust and could be broken at any moment. Loyalty was a precious commodity. Families were fragile. And heroes weren't always the good guys.
Jesse James was a hero to many. Penny westerns and newspaper accounts of his exploits fired the dreams of many a young boy. Such a young boy was Bob Ford. We meet James at the end of his career. Scarred, physically and emotionally, he trusts no one. The small joy in his life, his wife and two young children, is short lived. They move in the middle of the night from town to town, when someone recognizes James and the fear of capture raises it's head. Brad Pitt is perfect here. Weary, in pain, depressed, longing for just a little bit of peace. You can imagine his own life must feel something like this at times - never a moment when you can let your guard down.
Into his life comes Bob Ford, Casey Affleck in yet another stunning performance. (With a name like that how could he be bad?) 19 year old Bob adores the James brothers. He can recite the stories, give you facts and physical descriptions of the men. His encounter with Frank James (Sam Shepard) is wonderful, juxtaposing the eager Bob with the aged, worn, fed up Frank. When Jesse "chooses" him as his companion, takes him into his very home, he can hardly contain his joy. But as with all heroes, once we meet them face to face, we learn that they are not the perfect human being we imagined. The gradual and painful disintegration of Bob's hero worship is what makes this movie. Bob needs his hero and Jesse needs to be worshiped, but eventually neither one can keep up the charade. And the result is inevitable, painful, perfect.
Technically, the movie is stunning, filmed to perfection by Roger Deakins, (he of Coen Brother's films - O Brother, Big Lebowski, etc). The grey and brown and white of the vast prairie lands are occasionally shattered by Bob Ford's clear blue eyes. The rich sepia of candlelight and firelight lend a shadow world to the bright light of day. The sound editing alone gets my vote for Oscar. The click of a gun, the exhalation of a breath, the echo of a gunshot, linger long after the image has faded. The cast is perfection - even if Mary-Louise Parker (WEEDS) and Zooey Deschanel are only seen and rarely heard. But then this isn't a place where women belong.
There are some who say the movie is a bit too in love with itself. I say, why not? Bergman isn't everyone cup of tea. But I like him. This is not an American Western. This is a western for the mature among us, for those of us willing to look a little deeper at what makes us who we are, and what we have sacrificed to get there. This is poetry. And I am, after all, a poet.