The Asassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford
Starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck in the eponymous roles, Andrew Dominik’s film examines the last days of America’s most renowned outlaw.
Sam Sheppard, Mary-Louise Parker, Paul Schneider and Sam Rockwell (in particular) add their weight to an intresting supporting cast.
Set in 1881, the picture finds Jesse James as he is confronted by a young, down – troden devotee by the name of Rober Ford (Affleck) who wishes to follow in the foot steps of his hero. James has a reached a state of circumspection – estranged from his brother and his disbanded gang, he’s a contemplative figure, fearful of betrayal at the hands of those few men still close to him. Lauded as a hero by the nation, mythologised in nickel books, and vicious in turns, James is wanted by the authorities. He seeks to weed out those he can’t trust from the group of petty thieves who know his identity, by a process of obscure but potent interrogations, before Robert Ford engineers his demise.
The overall tone of Andrew Dominik’s Film is one of meditation – whether it be the feeling of heightened sensitivity in the visuals, or the many scenes depicting characters heavily involved in introspection, or the miasmatic voice over – it’s clear that the notion of drawn out contemplation is central to the Assasination of Jesse James. Unfortuntely this is to the detriment of the rhythm of the film, which appears labouring (especially in the early acts) and even ponderous. When you consider that the film is over two and half hours long this is no small fault, making it especially irritating when you are forced to watch Brad Pitt smoulder in to a corn field forthe sixth time.
The slowing of time this serves well in certain scenes where the suspense is carefully stretched out, however, the overall structure of the film suffers for being too slow and over inflated. Apparently the man who sweeps the cutting room floor was sent home without work on this picture. It’s only in the final act that the narrative force of the film appears to awake as the ending looms like one of James’ earlier augaries, pulling the story together in an attractive way.
The perfomrances are generally excellent with Casey Affleck showing deft ability in play opposite Brad Pitt’s Protean and seductive version of Jesse James: He really steals the show. Robert Ford comes across as an innocent in many ways, desperate and driven by the belittlement he’s suffered at the hands of those around him as he attempts to woo (or to become) his hero. There are echos of Tom Ripley in this rendition of Ford. Brad Pitt shows some moments of genuine quality, especially in the way he deploys his gaze, but, at points, he lapses into the mannerisms and existential punctuations he has used so many times before: the cocksure smacking of his lips, the curling out of his tongue, the spitting, the unexpected mangle of his features as he breaks in to extempore tears after violence (reminiscent of Achilles in Troy). It feels as though Jesse James is a perfect vehicle for Pitt as an actor -almost too perfect -and as result it appears a pedictable performance. On suspect on a second viewing there might be greater shades to be descovered. It can’t be douted that he injects a suprising amount of menace in Jesse James who resembles Milton’s devil hero along with reflections of Colonel Kurtz, especially in his self-stage managed assasination. Sam Rockwell’s brilliant supporting performance also deserves a mention.
The film is laid out well and the execution of voice over gives the story a sense of veracity and lineage. All in all there are so many elements that work to make the film worth watching: the score, the superb acting, the many curiously constructed scenes and the dialogue. For me it was ultimately overcooked, and indulgent, leaving me wanting the participants to do something other than just think on screen.