Nov 6, 2007

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a film of supreme elegance, majestic power and brooding intensity. Its beauty is something to behold. Quite simply it is a work of wonder and more then likely the best film I will see in 2007. Its many great qualities are ample. The cinematography, acting, writing and score are all superb. They combine to create a film that is deeply satisfying to watch and one to savour.

Director Andrew Dominik ("Chopper") has succeeded wildly in his first foray into the American film market. He has crafted a film devoid of easy explanations and standard plot lines. This is not a western in the traditional sense. There are shoot outs and action sequences, but they are few and far between, for this is much more a meditation on the price of fame and the obsession with infamy. It is a psychological drama between two men whose paths are joined together, at the time and for all of time. The film begins in 1881 and Jesse James (Brad Pitt) is giving up his 14 year life of train robbery and murder. His gang has been decimated over time and only his brother Frank (Sam Shepard) remains from the early days. After one last train robbery he secludes himself in a small town in his native Missouri. James is an immensely charismatic man, who after years of living the outlaw life, has become increasingly paranoid and agitated. Two men he thinks he can trust are recent gang members Charley Ford (Sam Rockwell) and his younger brother Robert (Casey Affleck). However Robert, a shy and introverted young man who initially idolises James, is increasingly frustrated by the lack of respect he receives from his hero. So much so that he takes matters into his hands. Not giving too much away, the film title does that, he plots to kill James and collect the bounty that the Missouri Governor has placed on his head. A cat and mouse game ensues as James and Ford are juxtaposed against each other in a battle of will and wits. James becomes more and more varied in his moods and Ford tries to summon the courage to carry out his task.

This is very much a film driven by character study. The plot is fairly simple, but the portrayal of men locked in a grim existential battle had me entranced. The acting is superb. Pitt has never been better, whilst Affleck lives and breathes his character with grim surety. Filmed in Canada, cinematographer Roger Deakins delivers stunning beauty to the screen. There are long scenes of sublime inaction and they are a joy to behold. The score by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave (he makes a late cameo) only adds to the overall feel of the film. It is subtle and touching, giving that extra layer required. This is a film of many layers, at all times there are several themes and ideas at work. Many have commented at its length, but at 160 minutes I never once felt the pace dragged. Since when there is a time limit on greatness. And this film is most assuredly great. Its stunning beauty, the train robbery sequence is one of the best film sequences I can remember, is matched by the study of characters in decline and despair. The theme of the film is more even more relevant today. The worship of fame for its own sake and the destructive hold it can have. Cinema at its most expressive and most certainly at its infinite possibilities.


  • At November 09, 2007 , Anonymous jase said...

    fantastic movie!.. i really need to watch it again, was in a kind of in a restless mood when i saw it. Making you sit through 30 minutes or so of ad's / previews

  • At November 10, 2008 , Anonymous Uta said...

    Thanks for writing this.


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