The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
IN SHORT: WHEN SHOULD YOU SEE THIS MOVIE? Make this the next movie on your rent/buy list, but be warned it is almost 3 hours long.
Jesse James is one of the most legendary figures of the old American west, but no film has chronicled his last days like Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. This is truly an epic film, with a nearly 3 hour run time it is not for everyone, but for those that appreciate deep character development and great scenery, this is a must see.
The movie starts out with the story of the James Gang’s final train robbery in Bluecut, Missouri, which is the first meeting between our two main characters, Jesse (Brad Pitt) and Robert Ford (Casey Affleck). Ever since Robert was a kid he idolizes Jesse, but as the movie goes on and Robert sees what Jesse is really like, he has to commit the ultimate betrayal.
It is quite obvious that Dominik tried to create a Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), The New World (2005)) type feel for this movie, with wide breathtaking shots of scenery and a multilayered intricate story, and he does it quite well. This is not your typical shoot ‘em up western flick, in fact there isn’t much action at all, which will upset some viewers. Instead Dominik focuses on character development and story, which sets this movie apart from all the rest. Jesse’s character is written brilliantly and truthfully, showing how he was a loving father, as well as a terrifying killer. Robert Ford is just as intriguing, transforming from a naïve kid to betrayer. It is the relationship between these two characters that makes this movie so unique, because it challenges you by not knowing which is the hero and which is the villain, and there will definitely be tears shed from the audience multiple times throughout.
Brad Pitt is in top form as Jesse James, but Casey Affleck definitely steals the show. The rest of the supporting cast is brilliant as well, highlighted by Sam Rockwell as Robert Ford’s dimwitted brother and Mary-Louise Parker as Jesse’s wife. The visuals in this movie are absolutely stunning, from long sweeping shots of empty meadows to careful views through old rippled glass windows, it feels like the audience is actually in the old 1870’s west. The narration (Hugh Ross) in this movie is another thing that stands out because it is written and performed to perfection. The ominous and haunting score (byNick
Cave and Warren Ellis) is another thing of beauty, I have never heard anything quite like it, and it adds so much to the film.
The only problems with the movie are that it is a pretty long movie that takes a while for the intricate plot to unravel that could alienate the more casual movie-goer. Overall this among my favorite films that I believe will go down as one of the most under appreciated films of 2007. I highly recommend this movie to everyone.