Talk to many cinephiles in recent years and they’ll cite Andrew Dominik’s “The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford” as one of the truly great films that never found an audience.
Financially the $30 million R-rated western was a dud – making less than $4 million States-side and just over $11 million overseas. At its widest release it hit only 301 cinemas. Critical reviews were good but not stellar either with a 76% (7.1/10) on Rotten Tomatoes and a 68/100 on Metacritic.
Yet the film has plenty of passionate advocates be it for the strong performances, Roger Deakins’ wonderous cinematography or Dominik’s directing style. There’s been a push of late for a Criterion Collection release of the title, but Dominik tells Collider this week that it won’t happen:
“I don’t think Criterion are interested in it. I don’t think that they feel it’s significant enough for them. There was this really lovely guy, who was a film student, that organized this ‘Jesse James’ revival, either last year or the year before. He was a film student or something, and ‘Jesse James’ is his favorite movie. He basically took it upon himself to create a ‘Jesse James’ revival and he set up all these screenings at various cinematheque type of things. He tried to get Criterion interested, and they weren’t.
‘Jesse James’ is a movie that made less than $4 million in the U.S., in its initial release. It was probably only released on five screens, ever, at one time. I don’t know if any films ever penetrate the zeitgeist without some sort of marketing muscle behind them, which ‘Jesse James’ didn’t have. The studio basically found the process of finishing that film so traumatic and unpleasant that they just wanted it to go away.
Now, I’m not suggesting that the result might have been different, but we won’t know. The movie business is a business. That’s a $30 million that made like $15 million. By any criteria that matters, to those who were investing money in film, it’s nothing but an abject failure. It’s very sad, but that’s reality. That’s not an insignificant amount of money, and I felt bad and responsible. People give you the money to make a movie, and that’s not insignificant. I don’t feel good about losing people’s money.”
To date, the best quality copy that fans can find these days is a bare bones Blu-ray from back in 2008 when the film first hit home video. Dominik himself has moved on to other projects such as his long gestating Marilyn Monroe biopic “Blonde”. Despite reports of Netflix potentially backing the project, Dominik confirms no deal has been set saying “it’s not, in any way, a done deal.”
Even with the setbacks he’s faced over the years, he’s determined to do the project which he describes as: “how a childhood trauma shapes an adult who’s split between a public and a private self. It’s basically the story of every human being, but it’s using a certain sense of association that we have with something very familiar, just through media exposure.”
Dominik’s most recent effort is the Nick Cave doco “One More Time With Feeling”.