The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

(2007)

Kiwi director Andrew Dominik (who made the excellent Chopper) tells the story of Robert Ford (Casey The Better Affleck), a fella who'd grown up idolising America's "first celebrity" - gun slinger Jesse James (Brad Pitt). The ambitious and idealistic Ford never imagined history would remember him as the "dirty coward" who shot James in the back.

At only 19, Ford joins the infamous gang of outlaws. But as Jesse James' notoriety grows, so does the authority’s resolve to kill him. With a price on his head, James wages war on these enemies, unknowing that the greatest threat to his life may well come from those he trusts most. How did James & Ford become friends? And what happened between them in the days & hours leading up to the gunshot that would end one’s life and become the definition of another’s?

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Flicks Review

Tell me a film will look into the dark, gloomy pits of men’s souls and I’m there, front row centre. I have no doubt The Assassination Of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford isn’t for everyone. It’s not exactly short, it’s not a saucy gunslinging jazzed up true-life tale, and there’s little in the way of actual ‘action’ per se. Rather, it’s introspective; a brooding meditation on celebrity, mortality, one’s own limitations, and on the character of Jesse James & Robert Ford.

The aim is to try and allure you, get under your skin. If you’re partial to it, as I was, you’ll find it hypnotic. It’s one of 2007’s very best films; bold, beautiful and bent. It’s also quietly audacious. Say what you will about gossip-mag King Bradley Pitt – but if his name (attached here as producer as well as star) gets films like this into cinemas, power to him.


Jesse James (Pitt) is played up as the celebrity of the time (1870/80s) and the subject of a great American fascination. Romanticised through camp fire tales, newspapers & paperback novels, James was a rogue frontiersman – a rebel and a free man in an increasingly civilized society. He was of course a hugely successful outlaw, stealing from banks & the wealthy who took cross-country trains.

Pitt’s fame then, adds to the role. Not only this, Pitt is a fascinating watch when playing characters sliding the slippery slope of sanity (Fight Club) which James very much is. The film covers the twilight of his career, where his fame is at a peak and has turned into a major burden. This, and the bounty on his head, is doing his head in and has turned him paranoid – suspecting all around him of wanting to bring him down. Pitt’s random bursts of cackling, and his mood swings – from brazen, tough & smart to dark & suicidal – is one of the film’s lasting impressions.

However our main story follows Robert Ford played by Casey Affleck - an impressionistic, eager beaver of a 19-year-old - who grew up on the James legend. The youngest of his siblings and the butt of jokes, Ford is driven by a desire to prove himself. He’s insecure and dependent on the approval of others, but also cocky – believing himself to have the steely resolve to match it with James. Affleck is pitch perfect as Ford, presenting a complicated, quite odd and depressingly human character.

Why is Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, forthcoming Joshua) always overlooked? He plays Robert’s brother Charley – James’ right hand man. As James alienates himself, his gang whittles to just him and the Ford brothers. Watching the trio go at it is a brilliant watch – Pitt at his best with two of the most interesting & most idiosyncratic actors of a generation in Rockwell & Affleck.

The story continues after Jesse James’ betrayal. Robert attempts to capitalise on his found fame (in one instance with a stage play than re-enacts the assassination), while Charley slides into depression.

The American landscape has a sorrowful and other-wordly quality, all brown and bronze, windswept and gritty, shot gorgeously by the third Coen brother; cinematographer Roger Deakins.

Suitably enough, Kiwi born director Andrew Dominik sets a funeral like atmosphere to the proceedings. As displayed with his excellent first film Chopper, about Australia’s famous modern day criminal Mark Reed, Dominik has a knack for making the interesting decision at every step. For instance the only robbery we see is cold & ruthless and not endearing to the characters at all. He de-myths the James myth. Aided by his great cast, he constantly takes you in unfamiliar directions.

Reviewed by Paul Scantlebury.

The Peoples' Reviews

Average ratings from 4 ratings, 5 reviews
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Wasn't what I expected, but it was really good.


BY sp00k nobody

Slow, boring, boring and slow.... Thats 2hrs and 41 mins that me and friends (who I recommended this movie to based on the star cast/crew) cant get back.


I'd held of seeing it because it was so hyped and over promoted. But I was shocked at how good I found it. Again, Brad Pitt again plays a major part in making this one of my favourites.

A slow haunting movie: the music and the cinematography are mesmerizing. The actors are mostly understated which only serves to make it feel more real.


See it - slow burning yes, but intriguing and indulgent in the best way. Great acting, great themes & story.


i loved this....its a different story to the usual jesse james. it moves along slowly...and the final 30 minutes is painful but the rest of it is a masterpeace of modern cinema. casey affleck was amazing....a sure oscar nomination. his acting is brillant brad pitt is well brad pitt......but hes good. if you want a good story great acting and some stunning scenery.....see this verison of jesse james......but be warned its slow and very long! loved it!!!!!


The Press Reviews

76% of critics recommend.
Rotten Tomatoes Score. More reviews on Rotten Tomatoes

  • Hugely ambitious and not without moments of success, this indulgent 2 hour and 40 minute epic ends up as unwieldy as its elongated title. It's a movie in love with itself, and few things are more fatal than that. Full Review

  • It's not exactly quick on the draw. But that doesn't stop this psychological saga being a western of the highest calibre, or making Affleck an Oscar longshot. Full Review

  • This quiet wow of a Western sneaks up as one hell of a satisfying surprise. Artfully exciting and compulsively watchable even at a butt-numbing 152 minutes, the film makes good on the promise New Zealand writer-director Andrew Dominik showed with Chopper in 2000. Full Review

  • Set amid gorgeously shot bleak landscapes, this character-driven story is not your typical western, despite focusing on the most famous gunslinger of them all. As a psychological drama it's less of a whodunnit and more of a finger-pointing hedunnit. Despite being as slow as a cowboy's drawl, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is utterly absorbing viewing and total Oscar bait... Full Review

  • The self-indulgence begins with director Andrew Dominik and infects much of the cast, who deliver meandering, unstable performances. Instead of contemplating the moral dimensions of novelist Ron Hansen's portrait of outlaw paranoia and obsession, a viewer can only think of waste -- the waste of good material and themes, a talented cast and, most crucially, the viewer's own time... Full Review

  • Directed by kiwi-born Australian Andrew Dominik, in his first feature since Chopper, this film is not for the cinematically faint of heart - clocking in at 2 hours 40 minutes you need to be in this for the long haul. I found myself inexorably drawn in by the pace, by the cinematography, and by the story itself... Full Review

  • A ravishing, magisterial, poetic epic that moves its characters toward their tragic destinies with all the implacability of a Greek drama, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is one of the best Westerns of the 1970s, which represents the highest possible praise. It's a magnificent throwback to a time when filmmakers found all sorts of ways to refashion Hollywood's oldest and most durable genre... Full Review

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