Everyone in 1880s America knows Jesse James. He?s the nation?s most notorious criminal, hunted by the law in 10 states. He?s also the land?s greatest hero, lauded as a Robin Hood by the public. Robert Ford? No one knows hi... more »m. Not yet. But the ambitious 19-year-old aims to change that. He?ll befriend Jesse, ride with his gang. And if that doesn?t bring Ford fame, he?ll find a deadlier way. Friendship becomes rivalry and the quest for fame becomes obsession in this virile epic produced in part by Ridley Scott and featuring gripping portrayals by Brad Pitt (winner of the Venice Film Festival Best Actor Award) as Jesse and Casey Affleck as the youth drawn closer to his goal?and farther from his own humanity.« less
An Homage to Western History in a Moody Daguerreotype Style
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 02/07/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD is one of the finer films about the history of the Old West 'heroes' such as Jesse James. It is difficult to describe the degree of high quality of the way in which this film has been created: the script (adapted by Andrew Dominick from Ron Hansen's novel) is as poetic as it is gritty and flows like a Shakespearean tragedy both in narration and in dialog; the exceptionally fine cinematography by Roger Deakins captures the flavor of the times, shot in subtle lighting whether in darkly intimate interiors or on the vast plains at times heightened by snowlight, but always in the feeling of the quality of daguerreotypes; the musical score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is strangely apropos without seeming to borrow from any previous source; and the cast of fine actors play the film as a true ensemble work. Director Andrew Dominik has accomplished a masterpiece.
The story begins subtly in the last year of the James gang at the final train robbery in 1881. Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and his brother Frank (Sam Shepard) have gathered remnant criminals to bolster their decimated gang - Dick Liddel (Paul Schneider), Ed Miller (Garret Dillahunt), and Wood Hite (Jeremy Renner) among them. The Ford brothers want to ride with Jesse: 19-year old Robert (Casey Affleck) idolizes Jesse and his older brother Charley (Sam Rockwell) enjoys the attention of the gang's fame. Jesse James, at only age 34, is at the end of his career, content to be at home with his wife Zee (Mary Louise Parker) and children. But Robert's adoration results in a chain of events that slowly dissembles the gang and results in Robert's obsessive revenge for Jesse's murder of one of the members fired by the promise of reward for the capture of Jesse James, dead or alive. History and the title of the film tell the plot so there are no surprises here. It is the inevitable unfolding of the drama and the tension of the interplay of the actors that drives the mood of the story. The film does not stop with the killing of Jesse James but instead follows the descent of the lives of Robert (now wealthy and in love a stripper - Zooey Deschanel) and the progressing insanity of Charley to an end that fades like the proverbial sunset on a time in our history we will never forget.
Each of the actors is exceptional, and despite the glory of having big name stars associated with the cast, the effect is one of pure ensemble work. The 160 minute running time of the film never seems too long, so well timed is the pacing of the story and the pauses for understanding the interior aspects of each character's mind. This is a haunting film, unusually fine in every detail. It deserves, and demands, attention. Grady Harp, February 08"
A Haunting Character Exploration Of Idolization And Self Dig
Kaya Savas | Bethesda, MD USA | 10/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a fan of the western genre I look forward to pretty much every western I hear is in the works since they come so few and far between nowadays. I am also a huge fan of Sergio Leone and Terrence Malick; two directors who use extremely long takes with exquisite deep focus photography. I had never heard of Andrew Dominik until I researched this film, and when I checked his history and saw that he had only done one other film called Chopper I felt skeptical as to what he would do with The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. Then I saw the trailer which sent chills up my spine and even made my eyes water, and this film became my top priority for the fall.
The film follows Robert Ford and two of his brothers as they join the James brothers for one final robbery. Robert Ford played brilliantly by Casey Affleck sees Jesse James as his idol. He followed his stories throughout his childhood and he wants nothing more than to be accepted by this man. Affleck portrays Ford as a very insecure and quiet man who almost feels ashamed for being himself. Being the youngest of five brothers one can assume he is tired of being at the bottom and one day wants the fame and attention that someone like Jesse James gets. Brad Pitt plays the complex Jesse James brilliantly with a performance that will send chills up your spine. His character is pretty hard to analyze. One can infer that James is a man who enjoys his reputation but sometimes longs for a life without the attention so that he can be happy with his wife and family. Another important character in this film is that of Charley Ford who is played by the great Sam Rockwell. With this film Rockwell proves he is capable of amazing things as an actor. He adds many dimensions to the character that otherwise would be meaningless to the overall plot. Charley Ford is just as complex as his brother Robert Ford or Jesse James. The cast is overall amazing and each person involved with this film puts on the performance of their career.
As the story progresses things become more and more tense. It's important to note how Dominik handles a film where the ending is given away in the title. The movie isn't for everyone. The 2 hour and 40 minute running time may ward of some movie goers, but it's nothing to be intimidated by. I did see a few people walk out of the screening I went to, which always strikes me as rude no matter what you think of the film. Dominik handled this project very much in a way that Terrence Malick handled The Thin Red Line. The characters are more focused than in a Malick film, but the structure is very similar. This film is all about the characters, which is why we almost forget that Jesse James dies at the hand of Robert Ford in the end. Everything leads up to that moment, which as a scene by itself is breathtaking. I don't think I have trembled in my seat as much as I did with that scene; truly crafted by a masterful filmmaker.
Creatively speaking the most important thing to note is Roger Deakins' absolutely stunning cinematography. I have never seen a more beautifully shot film in my entire life of watching movies. The colors and the lighting are just so phenomenal. The use of soft focus while contrasted with incredible deep focus shots blew me away. The most amazingly shot scene is definitely the train robbery at the beginning where everything is lit by lanterns and every light source glows with radiance. I am calling it now that this film will win Deakins an Oscar, because if it doesn't then I will lose considerable respect for the Academy. No one can deny the brilliance of the cinematography in this film and how it paints a deep layer of emotion for the story.
Another creative marvel of the film is the haunting score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The duo caught my attention with their gritty score to the Australian made western, The Proposition. Once I heard that they were doing this film it became even higher priority for me to see. The score is very interesting in that there isn't that much score in the nearly 3 hour film. There were three central themes they played throughout to basically create atmosphere and create transition points in the narrative; although their score during the assassination scene is the real reason why it's as brilliant as it is. It's a score that truly deserves people's attention and is worth owning when it's released.
I was shaken by this film; it really got to me. The raw power of the visuals and the performances take the audience on a haunting character exploration of idolization and self dignity. This isn't a typical western of the genre and it really isn't a revisionist western either. It's unique and original and you will not forget this film. Casey Affleck, Brad Pitt and Sam Rockwell give the performances of their careers. Andrew Dominik's meticulous attention to detail and craftsmanship proves his capability of being a great filmmaker. Top it off with the genius photographic talents of Roger Deakins and the musical brilliance of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis and you have one of the greatest films I have seen in my life. This is a masterpiece."
The Best Film of 2007
Laudan Tehrani | Charlotte, NC United States | 01/10/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film is a breathtaking account of the life and times of Jesse James. I am in complete awe that this movie wasn't more widely released because it was the best film of the year. Brad Pitt, Sam Rockwell and Casey Affleck give astounding performances, but Affleck's portrayal of the tormented and obsessive ally to James is beautiful and absolutely unforgettable. It is a shame that movies like this can come out and be mostly ignored...it should at least be nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Cinematography. This is a must see and once you do yourself the favor of indulging in this epic, you will then know why."
"Don't Let Him Get Behind You"
Rocky Raccoon | Boise, ID | 11/11/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Jesse James is a legend, but an outlaw for which I knew little. In the opening scene about a dozen men are stretched out in front of a campfire, eating vittles and talking. Self-proclaimed as "gregarious," Jesse (Brad Pitt) enjoys speculating on the love lives of both Presidents, proclaiming that Jefferson Davis is virile enough for his wife; while Lincoln is more than a little languid. It is here that we get his personality and the component of his post Civil War motives. It is also in this scene the film establishes the centrality of Jesse in the hierarchy of things, and it is through Hugh Ross's narration that Jesse is understood to be both skillful and fortunate, a cat with nine lives who has used up all but three.
On the outskirts of the parleying is greenhorn, Bob Ford (Casey Affleck), a James' Gang wannabe. Yet from the hideaway at his sister's place in Kansas City, it is clear from a box found underneath his bed that his notions of Jesse are from books and pamphlets with romanticized notions of train robberies and banditry. Swirling around this naïve figure are all Jesse's cousins. There's the ladies' man, Dick Liddell (played playfully and intently by Paul Schneider) and his brother, Andrew James, whose treason winds him like a ticking clock. There's also a close reading of Charlie and Wood who each keep us guessing as to what will happen next. Once the governor of Missouri (James Carville whose laudable performance shows his intensity for acting can be channeled just as strongly as for politics) gets a hold of them, we are really kept on our toes.
Once Ford's in, all the components of treachery and fate hang around each man's head. As he becomes privy to all, his education, understandably, has him liking his direction far less. As the noose tightens on all the key players, the suspense grows as to which member will be done in by Jesse, which ones by the law, and which by the conspiring traitors. Each man has to take sides, but the choices get grimmer with each passing day.
Jesse, having a nose for treachery, is always on the look-out. Getting each suspect alone, he fishes them out through questioning, while the fidgeting figure hems and haws his way out of the cross-examination whether guilty or innocent. This is the movie's real magic. Between the quiet, cocky confidence of Pitt's performance and the unsettling portrayals of the supporting players, insecurity has a tangible mood throughout the film.
`The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Bob Ford' sure takes its time. They could have carved their film down by about twenty minutes, but that is mainly nitpicking. At times the film seems as long as its title. However, the languorous scenes where Jesse is talking to his compatriots have the effect of a poker table. Everyone is waiting nervously for either a big payoff or to get shot or both. The tense behavior by all the designated players is so intense we feel we're a part of their table.
And when you're watching a Western that's as close as you wanna be.
(Based on a novel by Ron Hansen)"
Jesse James: American Legend
P.K. Ryan | Albany, NY USA | 10/17/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford' is about the last few months in the life of the infamous American outlaw, and how it is intertwined with his eventual assassin, Robert Ford. This is one of those films where you know exactly how it's going to end, and yet are drawn in and compelled anyway. Firstly, the film IS long. It's two hours and forty minutes, and it's slow, drawn out pace makes you feel it. I'm not sure if a healthy edit would have benefitted the film, but I'm quite sure it would have made it more appealing to some would-be movie-goers. As it stands, I would not recommend it those who are very impatient.
That being said, I thought it was an overall good film. Some of the dialogue is a bit peculiar, but it does well as a good drama and character study, and it is even quite hilarious at times. Visually, the film is beautiful, and the haunting, poignant score is phenomenal. Pitt does well as the personable, complex, and brutal Jesse James. I can't speak on how accurate this rendition is, but Pitt's James is portrayed as a man who acts viciously in the heat of the moment, only to break down in tears (after one incident) in regret. He is at once a loving family man, and someone who wouldn't hesitate to gun you down if he even thought you were thinking about crossing him. This is also a Jesse James toward the end of his career, who is increasingly paranoid, depressed, and regretful, and this makes his actions toward the end of the film that much more tragic and compelling.
I thought the real star of the show was Casey Affleck as Bob Ford though. He brilliantly conveys the complex, emotional personality of the 19 year old idolizer of Jesse James. The way he portrays the gushing and blushing kid in the presence of his idol felt so real, and reminded me of how a contemporary teenager might act with his favorite athelete or movie star. The labeling of Ford as a "coward" is a bit of a misnomer though. He was naive, sensitive, and anxious, but he did not lack courage. In the end, he did betray Jesse James, so traitorous might be an accurate description, but he was only labeled as a coward long after the fact because of a resurgence in Jesse James hysteria. Well that, and he did shoot James in the back, but the fact is, he was lauded as a hero for some time, for killing the man who caused so much terror. In any case, Bob Ford is a truly tragic figure, and I also appreciated how the film showed his life after the assassination. I also think one of the more subtle themes is that of the perverseness of American society. There is a certain tragic irony about the idolization of Jesse James, and the demonization of his killer, Bob Ford. So overall, I would say this is a good, intelligent film about a compelling piece of American history. Four stars."