The Films of Andrew Dominik: An Introduction

     August 3, 2014

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Andrew Dominik is sort of an enigma.  He doesn’t self promote.  He doesn’t suffer fools.  Some people find him rude, while others regard him as honest and matter-of-fact.  He doesn’t give canned answers to journalists.  He’s not a pushover in the studio environment.  He’s successfully positioned himself so that when you think of him, you think of his work.  In a professional context I’ve spoken to him several times at length on the phone or via email (this was some time ago, I was an assistant to one of his reps in 2007) and he’s still a mystery to me in many ways.  When someone mentions him, my mind almost never moves to a memory or recollection those days.  Instead, I immediately go to the final half hour of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and how that stretch of film inspires me more than almost any other movie I know.

Hit the jump for more on this fascinating filmmaker.

killing-them-softly-movie-image-brad-pitt-richard-jenkinsHis films have yet to make much money, at least in their initial box office release windows.  This is a phenomenon I simultaneously understand but do not “get.”  They are all thrilling both in content and in execution.  They are thoughtful.  They stick with you.  At least one of them, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, is a bona-fide masterpiece.  And yet they tend to go unrecognized at the moments when it counts commercially (despite Jesse James’ Oscar nominations for both Casey Affleck and cinematographer Roger Deakins).

His first feature, Chopper, was highly regarded, but its biggest success (beyond its own artistry) was to serve as a calling card for the filmmaker.  Jesse James was, upon its release, recognized as a classic by some and derided for its pace and length by others.  The film has recently seen a bit of a revival (with pieces like this by Kris Tapley at HitFix and a Twitter account that as amassed almost 36,000 followers).  It can take time for a 160-minute mediation on celebrity, the choices that define who we are, and how we are remembered to take hold.  The word on Killing Them Softly was so sour upon its release that even I stayed away, fearing a movie so bad it would retroactively kill my enjoyment of Dominik’s prior work.  When I finally took the plunge on Blu-ray I found it to be a remarkably funny, violent and on-the-nose microcosm of American capitalism.  Perhaps one day that film will find its own audience (though it’s one of only eight movies to ever receive an “F” CinemaScore, so that may take some time).

Starting next week, I’ll be taking an in-depth look at the films of Andrew Dominik in their order of release starting with 2000’s Chopper. I’ll contrast their merits (and occasionally their demerits) with their current perception and how they were received at the time of release.  I’ll also discuss in a broader sense why I find Dominik to be one of the most compelling filmmakers of our time.  I hope you join me.  And, more than that, I hope these articles cause you to form your own opinion regardless of whether you’ve seen his films before or are watching them for the first time.

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