19. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
score by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
On its own, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is an incredibly austere film, nearly as unadorned as its historical title suggests. However, as the first shot of an achingly beautiful midwestern sky fades in and Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ incandescent, reflective score begins, accompanied by Hugh Ross’ dense, poetic narration, you could believe you’ve stumbled into an art film. You have, but one in which the self-consciousness comes and goes like waves, receding into the background of motivation and perspective, then rushing forward as score, evoking unstated emotions and the depth of the character’s experiences and lives. Cave and Ellis’ score occupies an interstitial place in the film, dropping into the background until it suddenly articulates something essential, unacknowledged and unexplainable, overwhelming us. So doing, the score lends the film a telescopic effect, maintaining historical perspective even as it suffuses the proceedings with the character’s psychological depths. It suggests and articulates their essential humanity, making it sacred even while they strive to destroy it. As a film, and as a score, Jesse James is about the tragic beauty of the human experience, even as it exists in extremes of violence, avarice, and greed.
Essential tracks – Song for Jesse, The Money Train