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Terrence Malick Thought It Was Too Slow: 10 Things Learned From The Revival Screening Of 'The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford'

by Jordan Hoffman
December 9, 2013 12:10 PM
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The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

5. Everyone's a Critic
As moderator David Schwartz tried to dangle hope about Warner Bros. eventually releasing the “ideal” cut, Schwartz mentioned “hey, at first they wanted to dump 'Bonnie & Clyde.'”

“Have you seen 'Bonnie & Clyde' lately?” Dominik interrupted, scrunching his face in disapproval. “Has some good editing in the end, I suppose...“

“I see the film as far more similar to 'Barry Lyndon' than anything else.”

6 . No, really, EVERYONE'S a Critic
When Dominik showed Terrence Malick a cut of “Jesse James,” his reaction was “it's too slow.”

This got some laughs, but Dominik (rightly) pointed out that people who think Malick's films are slow are dead wrong—they zoom. He also said those who compare 'Jesse James' to Malick don't know what they're talking about (again, true) and they are just getting hung up on shots of nature. “I see the film as far more similar to 'Barry Lyndon' than anything else.”

7. Your Humble Narrator
Watching the film again (it had been a while), I was trying to recall out who the narrator was. For a minute I thought it was Ricky Jay. Turns out the narrator was the assistant editor, a fella named Hugh Ross.

Originally, Dominik wanted a woman to do the narration. Ross was in there just as a temp track. And, as so often happens, they fell in love with the temp track. No one could do it as good as Hugh. Oddly, even Hugh couldn't do it as good as Hugh. When it was time to re-record, he got nervous, or something, and it lacked the essence they loved from the first read. So some of what you hear (much of it poorly recorded, according to Dominik) is that initial voice over.

Dominik said that when the movie played festivals, Hugh Ross was part of the gang that travelled with it, and it always freaked people out to hear him talk from the back of a car after watching the movie.

8. Nick Cave's Lookin' Out For Nick Cave
Dominik first approached Nick Cave to play the barroom singer in the one scene toward the end. Cave quickly agreed, but also said “I want to do the music.” Dominik says he was embarrassed that he didn't ask him originally and said “sure” because he didn't know what else to say. Of course, now he's happy with the result that he and Warren Ellis came up with, and remarked that it sounds much bigger than what is really just violin and piano.

Killing Them Softly Brad Pitt

9. Not Soft Enough
There was no shortage of movie journos in the house, and my colleague Matt Patches asked a question that touched upon “Killing Them Softly.” (I'm not going to repeat the full question – what am I, working for Patches now?) Anyway, Dominik took the opportunity to say, bluntly, that he is “embarrassed by the stylization in 'Killing Them Softly.'”

Later in the evening, Patches and I schmoozed with Dominik as he smoked outside (we were on our way to get milkshakes) and he confessed that “maybe in a year I'll be able to watch 'Killing Them Softly' with a clear head and like it.” He said it took quite some time to get to a place where he could watch and like “Jesse James.”

10. What's Next
Dominik said that he's “good to go” to shoot “Blonde,” based on Joyce Carol Oates' book about Marilyn Monroe, next August. He said that the film has very little dialogue, which is odd considering how all his other films “rely so heavily on talking.” He said there is no scene in the script longer than two pages. Also, it will be his first film with a major female character. “My films have always been bereft of women,” he confessed.

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  • guest | December 11, 2013 1:36 AMReply

    So much death in this movie it's horrific. Jesse's always looking for it because he's been resolved to die for some time.

    Then it passes to Charlie Ford like some disease.

    Then that crazy bastard loads up a double barrel with steel shavings and corks it and just walks in and blows off Robert Ford's head.

    They should do a sequel. Start it off with Robert's head blowing up, and then go back to bloody Kansas and Quantril. They could do Archie Clement, and end with Northfield. That would sell a lot of tickets.

    Maybe not. It's unhealthy to have many people dwell on this.

  • Harold | December 10, 2013 2:36 PMReply

    you sound like a really unbright person Jordan

  • Xian | December 10, 2013 2:22 PMReply

    Sometimes a movie comes out that defies the expectations of the studio, the marketing dept., the creative group behind it... even the director. Both of Dominik's recent films seem to have gotten out to the public this way, and yet both are excellent (TAOJJBTCRF's look at extreme American celebrity fixations and KMS's skewed look at America as a land of capitalism and opportunity). It happens... masterpieces are discovered by audiences over time, not necessarily because they were meant to be so by the financiers or the filmmakers, but sometimes despite that.

  • Xian | December 10, 2013 2:23 PM

    Whoops... meant KTS :)

  • Stephanie | December 10, 2013 11:47 AMReply

    "Assassination" was my favorite movie of the year it came out, and I still adore it. I didn't find it to be slow at all. I was very involved with all of the characters the whole time, loved the ensemble, and thought it was incredibly moving.

  • Anthony | December 10, 2013 11:44 AMReply

    I'll preface by saying that I absolute love TAOJJBTCRF, and i was at the screening Saturday. My wife( seeing it for the first time) was also in awe of the film, but the director came off really out of touch. Which is fine, I'm sure both he and I don't need any more friends. I'll still watch his movies, but he's definitively in the douche category in my mind.

  • CharlieT | December 10, 2013 8:58 AMReply

    Just because a filmmaker makes a slow burning, dreary and predictable film doesn't make it a masterpiece.

    Lets just say, he's had his shot and ever since Chopper, it's been a downward slide.

    Its time to move over and expose the new up and coming directors from the land downunder. In Australia, there are more fresh, raw, edgy and inventive filmmakers that should be popping soon.

  • LB | December 10, 2013 9:58 AM

    Agree, I found KTS posey, empty and affected, a real disappointment. Though Malick can talk, the pretentious piece of perfume ad trash he made with Ben Affleck has to be the the emptiest, piece of mannered artiness that was released last year.

  • Gordon | December 10, 2013 8:53 AMReply

    I think Killing Them Softly is every bit the masterpiece that Robert Ford is. I may be the only person in the world who thinks that, but... Whatever.

  • guest | December 11, 2013 1:27 AM

    I'm always going to remember Gandolfini as Mickey. Watching him eat and drink like he was going to die, and then he really died.

    It's like watching old shows of the Sopranos. All these old actors get mad at him for getting the glory, and then play gangsters trying to kill him, and then he's dead. That's what movies do to me. I stopped seeing the character and fiction and started seeing real humans whose parents and children watch. Art starts to take a different meaning then.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | December 9, 2013 7:21 PMReply

    Wow... the candor. lol

  • JJBuffalo | December 9, 2013 4:51 PMReply

    For anyone living in the Buffalo, NY area, there is going to be a screening on January 9th. Details and tickets can be found at Tugg (dot) com.

  • Michael Dunbridge | December 9, 2013 3:46 PMReply

    Whatever Dominik or anyone else says about it, this is one helluva film, based upon a fine novel about Jesse James (written by Ron Hansen). All the studio machinations, the struggles, the rifts and bs aside (which, by the way, are depressing and would discourage anyone from trying to make a film in Hollywood), I'd go see this movie on the big screen anytime it comes back around. Flawed, yes; a bit long, yes; but the cinematography, the acting, the music, is some of the best to have come out of that particular year. As for Dominik's demeanor, who really cares, unless you're working with/for him. If you haven't seen this film nor viewed it in a theater, it's definitely worth your time.

  • KT | December 9, 2013 3:08 PMReply

    So, in short - the studio edited the shit out of his films and he hates them.

    Okay, then.

  • Jack | December 9, 2013 1:58 PMReply

    Isn't there supposed to be a much longer version of Killing Them Softly? Was/is Dominik approving of the cut that was released in theaters?

  • JJBuffalo | December 9, 2013 4:47 PM

    My guess is that it was never meant to be much longer than the the theatrical cut. The 2.5 hour version that has been talked about was likely raw and unpolished, later edited down to its natural length. There are some short deleted scenes on the blu-ray release, though. You might enjoy those.

  • spassky | December 9, 2013 1:57 PMReply

    Sounds like a pompous, chauvinistic bro who has zero respect for his audience.

    'Assassination..." is merely his attempt at subtlety, which is so unsubtly subtle it boggles the feaux-cineaste fanboys into deference. Whenever you talk to people who want to defend this film it's all "elegiac" this and "aesthetic precision" that blablabla. Don't get me wrong, the movie has some of the best performances of the past decade, and some beautiful photography but Dominik doesn't seem to have any clue what it's about. He makes movies for himself, and he seems like an awful egotistical bore.

    Besides chopper, his films are turds outside of the performances and cinematography. Guy sounds merely like a psychopath-with-a-decent-eye for hire.

  • Washington | December 10, 2013 12:45 AM

    Why respect your audience if they're anything like the people who post comments on these websites?

  • Sean | December 9, 2013 3:56 PM

    I respect the fact that he speaks with such ernest. He doesn't bullshit the truth it seems.

    As for his work, he's very distinct and different. His films feel very much like the new hollywood but modern and with more pizzazz.

  • 3423 | December 9, 2013 1:17 PMReply

    That Malick thought it was too slow came out years ago in a Dominik interview. That bit of info probably dates back to when the movie initially came out in 2007

  • Washington | December 10, 2013 12:46 AM

    Okay, so what? Dominik was repeating it here.

  • Kevin | December 9, 2013 1:41 PM


  • CB | December 9, 2013 1:00 PMReply

    Andrew Dominik is one of my heroes. A pure filmmaker. Wish more directors had Dominik's sensibilities.

  • bohmer | December 9, 2013 1:00 PMReply

    I will always take time to write how much of a masterpiece this film is (even tough its not the director's vision). I would pay big dollars to see one of those cuts!

  • lookfar | December 9, 2013 12:32 PMReply

    He really is a great director.

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