The Assassination of Jesse James was a 2007 American western, directed by Australian director Andrew Dominik. The title of the movie pretty much gives away the overall plot. It starred Brad Pitt as the famous outlaw and Casey Affleck as his assassin. In addition, the movie also starred Sam Rockwell as Robert Ford’s brother Charley with a supporting casts that included Sam Shepherd, Mary Louise Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Ted Levine, and a pre-fame Jeremy Renner.
The movie began with a short intro that shows various images of Jesse James with narration to help explain his life (and essentially get the audience up to speed) before cutting to a scene of the current James Gang preparing their last train robbery (before retiring). In addition, Robert Ford had tagged along with his brother Charley and was trying to talk Jesse’s older brother Frank into letting him join the gang as a sidekick. In the process, Robert gives the other the creeps. The train robbery goes off without a hitch, but Jesse displays his mean streak to get things done. Later on, the gang skips town and ends up at the home of Robert and Charley’s older sister (though Frank retires). The Ford’s stay behind but the others leave as soon as they could (having to since they were outlaws). In the process, two of them have a falling out (after one sleeps with the other’s step-mother). Their feud results in a nasty chain reaction, including the moment where Robert Ford becomes disillusioned with his childhood hero (Jesse James).. Elsewhere, Jesse discovers from another member of the gang that one of the other members was planning to turn him in for the reward money. This leads to a desperate hunt for the conspirator. Towards the end, the Ford’s become convinced that Jesse plans to kill them eventually.
The first thing I noticed about the movie is the acting. The two leads each gave stellar performances. Brad Pitt comes off as paranoid and guilt-ridden, driven to the point of madness and grief. But Casey Affleck steals the show as the deeply troubled and socially awkward Robert Ford who gives an impression to others that can best be described as, in a word or two, creepily obsessed. In addition the directing is something else that is worth mentioning, especially in his use of close ups. Having the camera focus on one character as they speak (usually Jesse or Robert) gave the impression that what they were saying was also a representation of their own psychological state. But the most effective use of a close up would go to the moment when Robert Ford first grew disillusioned. As Jesse was telling the story of someone that tried to seek revenge against him, the camera sat on Robert instead and you could practically see him lose his way without the actor having to do anything. Also, it was a nice touch to have Jesse’s daughter reciting a prayer outside mere moments before he was assassinated.
In the end, this movie was brilliant. Thanks to its competent directing and exceptional acting, I couldn’t recommend the movie enough.