The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

DVD Cover (Warner Brother)
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Overall Rating 74%
Overall Rating
Ranked #785
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Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt
Mary-Louise Parker
Mary-Louise Parker
Brooklynn Proulx
Brooklynn Proulx
Dustin Bollinger
Dustin Bollinger
Casey Affleck
Casey Affleck
Review by bluemeanie
Added: November 16, 2007
Was Robert Ford a coward? That's the question at the heart of the new film, "The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford". The story of Jesse James has always fascinated me, ever since that episode of "The Brady Bunch" where Bobby became obsessed reading about his adventures and started mimicking him because he revered him as somewhat of a hero. Funny, in that Robert Ford does exactly the same thing. What's always fascinated me the most about Jesse James is how he has been portrayed. By all accounts, he was a cold blooded and ruthless killer who went through uncontrollable mood swings and severe bouts of depression. The public perception, though, is the most confusing. When he was alive, people were terrified of him; scared to death that might one day run into the man. After his death, he became somewhat of a folk hero; robbed from the rich and gave to the poor when, in fact, he robbed from the rich and gave to himself. But this film doesn't focus so much on what Jesse James did to become infamous. When the film begins, we know all we need to know about him. This film is more about exploring the relationship he had with Robert Ford, the man who would eventually shoot him in the back, at his own home.

In two of the best performances of the year, Brad Pitt stars as Jesse James and Casey Affleck as Robert Ford. The film opens with the James Gang, led by Jesse and older brother Frank James (Sam Shepard), pulling off their final train robbery. Afterwards, Frank moves on, while Jesse sticks back and contemplates what to do with his life. Slowly, Jesse starts to grow suspicious of the men who were involved with his last robbery, thinking they might be contemplating turning him in and then collecting the reward money. Robert Ford, younger brother to Charlie (Sam Rockwell), has always idolized Jesse James and seems like he wants to be him more than be with him. When Robert is invited to participate in the final robbery, he is thrilled, not knowing that this event will give him everything he has ever wanted, and a whole lot more. Throughout the film, we are introduced to a number of characters, ranging from two feuding members of the gang (Jeremy Renner & Paul Schneider), a gung-ho governor who wants Jesse dead (James Carville), Jesse's wife who doesn't ask questions and expects little (Mary-Louise Parker) and a local sheriff (Ted Levine) who eventually recruits Robert Ford to help him bring down the legend himself. We all know how the story of Jesse James ends. In this film, we get to see it from both perspectives.

What a movie. What an experience. Forget what you saw in the trailers. Forget what you think this movie is all about. "The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford" is one of the finest examples of American cinema I have seen in the past 20-years or more. Constructed at a meticulous pace, the film uses landscapes like a weapon, using the cold and the snow to show the gradual disintegration of Jesse James and his better judgments. Jesse James never really trusts Robert Ford, and we almost get the sense that James knows Ford is going to eventually kill him, even going so far as to give him a pistol as a present. Maybe, while the Ford brothers think Jesse is plotting to kill them, Jesse has really been setting up his own death? Director of Photography Roger Deakins brilliantly captures the mid-West landscape here, through the various seasons and paints a vivid portrait of the world in which these men reside. It's not as dirty and disgusting as we're used to seeing - it just seems more real and fragile. Writer/Director Andrew Dominik directs the film like he's been doing it for years and years, evoking Terrence Malick and even David Lean in the way he paints his picture. The Hugh Ross narration serves the film well, giving us key plot points before they happen, preparing us for what is to come. You'd think that would be off putting, but it adds a sense of immediacy to the scenes we are sitting there, getting ready to watch.

In performances worthy of Academy Awards, Pitt and Affleck are impeccable. This is the finest performance of Brad Pitt's career and never has he been so commanding on screen. He inhabits Jesse James and embodies him. When he enters a room, an immediate weight hits the air, as if you know something is about to happen. He plays James as a man who is both loathsome and lovable, who will hug you like a brother one second and shoot you in the back the next. He never plays him as a man with remorse for what he has done. It's a job to him. He plays James as a man who does what he has to do to keep his family and himself safe from harm. As Robert Ford, along with "Gone Baby Gone", Casey Affleck has emerged as a serious talent in Hollywood. He also delivers the performance of his career as Robert Ford, coward or not. Just watch how Affleck eyes down Pitt during their scenes together. Watch the subtle ticks and twitches, especially during the final scene they share. Pitt and Affleck have great chemistry together and use it to full effect. Also memorable are Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider and Jeremy Renner as the members of Jesse's gang. All three bring an energy and excitement to their roles. And Sam Shepard as Frank James is only on screen for a short time, but commands it every second. When is he not a powerful performer?

Not only might this be the best movie of 2007, but also one of the best movies ever made. I don't throw that out there very often. "The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford" tells a very interesting story about two very interesting men, and it doesn't take sides. It shows events just as they happened and lets the audience decide. Was Robert Ford a coward? If he really thought Jesse was about to kill he and his brother, then he was not. But, as well as Robert knew Jesse and as much as he studied him, one has to think he knew what Jesse was up to. So, in that case, he probably was a coward. But, more so in the way he behaved after Jesse's death than the actual killing itself. And, if anything, Robert Ford helped make Jesse James the legend he is today and helped perpetuate his mythos and legend for years and years to come. That's why, all these years later, we know Jesse James, but not Robert Ford. This film tells his story. I recommend many awards for this film, including: Best Actor for Brad Pitt, Best Supporting Actor for Casey Affleck, Best Director for Andrew Dominik, Best Adapted Screenplay for Andrew Dominik, Best Original Score for Nick Cave and Best Picture. If you don't like Westerns, don't worry - this isn't one. It's simply a character study of two men so very much alike, yet so very different.

10/10 - A Masterpiece.
Luminaire #1: Luminaire - added 11/22/2007, 05:21 PM
Brad Pitt is the most underrated actor in Hollywood. He doesn't get much love for his work but if you think about it, hes made a lot of great movies. Flawless movie and a good depiction in the review Bluemeanie. 10/10
Nirrad #2: Nirrad - added 03/07/2008, 03:16 PM
Underrated?!?!? What are you smoking? He's one of the most popular actors right now, actually, he has been for like 10+ years. He's an A-List actor and everyone knows it.
Tristan #3: Tristan - added 03/07/2008, 03:40 PM
Yes, but he's more credited because of his good looks than his actual acting ability. He's done a few stinkers, but overall, he's been in some really great films.
bluemeanie #4: bluemeanie - added 03/07/2008, 03:42 PM
Agreed with Luminaire. Pitt doesn't usually get credit for his strong work as an actor -- he's just cast in films because he looks good and has name value. But, he has been turning out quality performances for a while now and deserves more recognition for that.
Nirrad #5: Nirrad - added 03/07/2008, 07:49 PM
Hmm, I can see what you mean. I never thought he was underrated. I always thought he put of great movies.
Tristan #6: Tristan - added 12/07/2008, 05:48 PM
I loved this movie, but there was just something about it that bothered me. Maybe it was the pacing, maybe it was the editing. Whatever it was, the film always seemed a little "off" and I can't give it a perfect for that very reason. Aside from that, and the narrator being absolutely dreadful, this was another film that will go down as a modern classic. Another fine film on Pitt's resume, and a nice stepping stone for Affleck. More and more I'm enjoying his work.

Greg Follender #7: Greg Follender - added 02/06/2009, 09:56 PM
I firmly agree with the Fecal Wonder on this one (except his praise for Affleck)... although Meanie's well-worded review strikes home with me as well. Something was definitely "off" about this film... and this strange deficit kept it from being a perfect film.

Between Affleck's annoying mumbly delivery and the AWFUL narration (the guy friggin' mispronounced the word "VAGUE", for fuck's sake), all Pitt's magnificent work loses just a bit of luster.

Still... very enjoyable and well done otherwise.

A solid 8.5/10

Lucid Dreams #8: Lucid Dreams - added 03/07/2010, 02:27 AM
Damn good movie. It had a few slow points in there, but I thought the story and acting was great. 9/10
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