Author Topic: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford  (Read 3205 times)

Najemikon

  • Guest
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
5 out of 5; 10 out of 10; a bloomin' :thumbup: thingy if you must...  ;)


You may have the impression from the subtle heading that I quite like this film and you would be right. Mesmerising, haunting, beautiful and challenging. A remarkable film about a remarkable man (well, two). I cannot recommend it enough.

The plot is very simple and all you need to know is in the title. Jesse James, in the twilight of his career, is unsportingly shot in the back by young Robert Ford, who had grown up idolising James and dreaming of riding with his gang. The story starts with Robert trying to ingratiate himself with Jesse having been introduced by Charley Ford, his brother. Jesse's original gang has been decimated and he now rides with anyone who wants to come along. They do one more train robbery and then Frank James leaves. This was pretty much Jesse's last robbery, though he speaks continually of doing more, despite his paranoia (oft justified) making him unstable. All the while the relationship between himself and the obsessed Robert is getting more and more complicated.

This is an unusual film. A western about a notorious thief, murderer and folk hero yet has very little solid action across it's two and a half hour runtime. Instead of gunplay, we get a thoughtful work of art, quietly narrated, and with some of the most beautiful photography seen since at least Dances With Wolves, possibly earlier. You may think it sounds slow, but it is absolutely engrossing, the time flies by and it never loses focus or confidence in its themes and characters. The pacing is just perfect.

This is in no small way thanks to the brilliant cast. Sam Rockwell plays Charley Ford, always on the sidelines, becoming more panicky. Sam Shepard has a relatively tiny role as Frank James, but he seems to resonate throughout the story. At the centre are the two main men and both Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck are astonishing. Pitt is incredible; an air of quiet almost constant authority, broken by sporadic violence and a maniacal laugh, but still demands your sympathy. Affleck's is a nervy and slimy character, who never seems comfortable, perhaps until the end, when the consequences of his actions change him. Note that comfortable is not necessarily happy.

Overall the story deals with the notion of celebrity and media, so has a clear relevance today. Jesse James is at once an outlaw and a hero, struggling to balance a true and worthwhile family life with psychopathic obsessions, paranoia and depression; Ford has grown up hearing about the hero and meets the charismatic outlaw and he's a constant mess of emotions. His act of cowardice (born out of fear) is briefly congratulated, but quickly ridiculed, eventually leading to his own rather more random assassination.

This film is not for everyone, but everyone should try it. You may be surprised. On a side note, I was intrigued to notice that Ridley Scott was a producer. Reviews of his biographical true story American Gangster often noted that although it is very good in general, it has little of his original flair and could be accused of being pedestrian. Almost like he used to sacrifice story for flair, now it's the other way around. Not to take anything away from Scott, but with this film director Andrew Dominik proves you can have both. I'm particularly fond of a trick he uses where the edges of the frame are soft focus (much like the photographs from the era); the whole film looks gorgeous and the very final shot lives on in your mind.


Offline goodguy

  • Heavy Poster
  • *****
  • Posts: 1464
  • Colleen West never liked the first light of day.
    • View Profile
Re: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2008, 08:00:05 AM »
Thanks for your review. I already have this on my wishlist for some time, but haven't yet decided which release to buy.

I don't care much about typical westerns, but I do tend to like the slow-paced, elegic ones. Altman's McCabe & Mrs Miller for example, or HBO/Milch's Deadwood.
Matthias

Najemikon

  • Guest
Re: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2008, 12:58:26 PM »
I haven't seen McCabe & Mrs. Miller, but that and Terence Malick (Days of Heaven) are name-checked in Empire's review. As are the spaghetti westerns; not in a visual or pacing sense, but certainly this film shares the sense of death.

Regards editions, I went for the two disc and was initially disappointed as there isn't much there. On the contrary, I'm pleased because there is no fluff! Just a decent half hour documentary on disc 2 called Death of an Outlaw, where the cast and crew talk about the true story. It's very good and adds to the experience. The DVD package also includes a 44 page book bound in the case which is quite informative in a peripheral sense.

Touti

  • Guest
Re: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2008, 02:23:57 PM »
I just ordered it from Amazon along with "Black Book" and "September Dawn".

Touti

  • Guest
Re: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
« Reply #4 on: May 31, 2008, 08:47:41 PM »


There really is no point in writing my thoughts about this since I agree with Jon's word for word.

My score:

Najemikon

  • Guest
Re: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
« Reply #5 on: May 31, 2008, 08:54:03 PM »
There's a first! :laugh: :tease: Seriously, I'm really glad you enjoyed it.

Touti

  • Guest
Re: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
« Reply #6 on: May 31, 2008, 09:00:06 PM »
Actually I dozed off and slept half through so that's probably why we're in agreement  :hysterical:

Najemikon

  • Guest
Re: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
« Reply #7 on: May 31, 2008, 09:09:04 PM »
 :weep:

 :hysterical:

Touti

  • Guest
Re: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
« Reply #8 on: May 31, 2008, 09:20:37 PM »
Seriously, you were right about that movie Jon.  It's definitely a change from those westerns where everybody shoots every one else and the Sheriff is just too dumb to do anything about it.

I'm glad you posted a review because I had never heard of it and had I seen it in a store I don't think I would have bought it.

Offline goodguy

  • Heavy Poster
  • *****
  • Posts: 1464
  • Colleen West never liked the first light of day.
    • View Profile
Re: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
« Reply #9 on: June 15, 2008, 01:24:37 PM »
I went for the barebone R1, because it was cheap (*) and one can catch up on the background elsewhere.

I'm glad to report that the movie matched my high expectations and deserves the praise Jon (and other reviews I read) heaped upon it. Some comments:

While the cinematography is wonderful throughout the entire movie, it has a strikingly beautiful high point early on, which it never quite reaches again. I mean of course the night scene leading to the train robbery.

While the entire cast is indeed brilliant, Casey Affleck absolutely stands out. Brad Pitt is effective in an accomplished movie star sort of way, but I didn't find him as remarkable as Affleck. And both Mary-Louise Parker and Zooey Deschanel seemed almost wasted on their marginal roles. I wonder if their parts were larger in the 4h cut shown at the Venice Festival.

In fact, the lack of any interesting female roles is the only gripe I have with the movie. It is a minor one, and more a matter of personal liking than any real and reasonable criticism.

---
(*) Except that I have now moved up Criterion's Days of Heaven in my Wish List and also added Criterion/Eclipse's First Films of Sam Fuller (which includes his I Shot Jesse James).
Matthias

Najemikon

  • Guest
Re: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
« Reply #10 on: June 15, 2008, 06:50:33 PM »
A 4 hour cut? Heck, why did you go and say that? Another one for my "Probably Never" wishlist, along with the complete version of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World... ;)

Nice to hear you liked it. I agree about the female roles and now I think about it, I would have been especially interested to see more of Robert Ford's wife. He essentially became a different person after the shooting and she must have been a big part of that. At least her acceptance of him is important.