There are few contemporary films, except maybe Kenneth Lonergan‘s “Margaret,” that boast a dedicated effort by cinephiles for people to give it the attention it deserves, but then again, there are few films quite like Andrew Dominik‘s “The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford.” The tale is a familiar one, with Dominik struggling to get Warner Bros. a cut of the film they liked, only to see the studio lose faith and barely release it in cinemas. But a devoted core of fans kept singing the praises of the excellent, elegiac western starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck, to the point where a few years ago, the film returned to the big screen for a handful of revival screenings. All along the way, the holy grail for many was a better home video release than the bare bones Blu-ray from eight years ago. But alas, if you’ve been dreaming to see “The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford” on The Criterion Collection, Dominik is here to tell you that it’s not going to happen.
“I don’t think Criterion are interested in it. I don’t think that they feel it’s significant enough for them,” the director told Collider. “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.”
As for the film’s commercial reception, Dominik is pretty pragmatic about it all.
” ‘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,” he said. “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.”
And bearing that in mind, don’t expect Warner Bros. themselves to pony more money for a fresh restoration or a bells-and-whistles Blu-ray release — it will probably never happen. So cherish what you have, which is a pretty incredible movie all on its own.