Movie Review: “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is a gripping masterpiece that defies categorization. Directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck, this Western drama explores the nature of heroism and villainy, and the thin line that separates the two.
Directed by Andrew Dominik and released in 2007, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is a film that defies categorization. At once a Western, a character study, a crime drama, and a meditation on the nature of fame and legend, it is a film that offers something for every viewer, yet never loses its focus or its power.
At its core, “The Assassination of Jesse James” is a story about two men: Jesse James, the legendary outlaw who terrorized the American West in the late 1800s, and Robert Ford, the young man who idolized him and ultimately betrayed him. The film begins with Jesse James (Brad Pitt) already well into his career as a bandit, with a reputation as a cold-blooded killer and a hero to some and a villain to others. Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), meanwhile, is a low-level member of Jesse’s gang, who dreams of one day being recognized as a hero himself.
As the film unfolds, we see the complex relationship between these two men develop, with Robert becoming more and more obsessed with Jesse and Jesse growing increasingly paranoid and distrustful of those around him. Along the way, we meet a cast of supporting characters, each of whom adds depth and richness to the film’s world. There is Jesse’s brother Frank (Sam Shepard), who is fiercely loyal to him but also recognizes the danger he poses to himself and those around him. There is Charley Ford (Sam Rockwell), Robert’s brother and partner in crime, who shares his brother’s admiration for Jesse but also fears for his own life. And there is Zee James (Mary-Louise Parker), Jesse’s long-suffering wife, who tries to hold her family together even as the world around them crumbles.
Andrew Dominik’s Direction and Roger Deakins’ Cinematography Shine in This Film
Andrew Dominik’s direction is marked by its attention to detail and its ability to create a sense of tension and unease even in the film’s quieter moments. He uses slow tracking shots and close-ups to draw us into the characters’ world, and he’s not afraid to linger on a scene or a moment, allowing us to fully absorb its emotional impact. Dominik also shows a deft hand in the film’s action scenes, which are sparse but impactful. He uses quick cuts and dynamic camera movements to create a sense of chaos and danger, while never losing sight of the human cost of violence.
Roger Deakins’ cinematography, meanwhile, is simply stunning. He captures the beauty and desolation of the American West with incredible precision, using natural light and a muted color palette to create a sense of timelessness. His compositions are often breathtaking, and he makes use of both wide shots and intimate close-ups to create a sense of scale and intimacy. Deakins’ work in “The Assassination of Jesse James” earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography, and it’s easy to see why. He elevates every scene he shoots and helps to create a film that is as visually stunning as it is emotionally powerful.
Together, Dominik and Deakins create a film that is a true masterpiece of Western cinema. Their collaboration is a perfect match, with Dominik’s nuanced direction bringing out the best in Deakins’ cinematography, and vice versa. “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is a film that would not be as powerful or as memorable without their contributions.
Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck Deliver Powerful Performances
Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck both deliver powerful and nuanced performances in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”
Brad Pitt plays Jesse James, the infamous outlaw who is the film’s central figure. In Pitt’s hands, James is a complex and fascinating character, alternately charming and terrifying, vulnerable and ruthless. Pitt brings a quiet intensity to the role, conveying James’ deep sense of paranoia and isolation with a subtlety that is all the more impressive given the character’s outsized reputation. He also has a great chemistry with Casey Affleck, who plays Robert Ford, the man who ultimately betrays him.
Casey Affleck, for his part, gives a remarkable performance as Robert Ford, a character who is simultaneously sympathetic and despicable. Affleck captures Ford’s desperation and need for approval, while also conveying his resentment and envy towards Jesse James. He brings a vulnerability and a humanity to a character who could easily have been portrayed as a one-dimensional villain, and his portrayal of Ford is one of the film’s most memorable aspects.
Pitt and Affleck’s performances are a testament to their skill as actors, but they are also a product of the film’s careful construction. Both actors have a lot of screen time to work with, and the film’s deliberate pacing allows them to fully inhabit their characters and explore the nuances of their relationships. This is especially true in the film’s tense and unforgettable final act, which is a showcase for both actors and a masterclass in tension-building and character development.
Pitt and Affleck’s performances are integral to the success of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” They bring depth and complexity to their characters, helping to elevate the film into the realm of Western classics.
A Film That Explores the Nature of Heroism and Villainy
“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is a film that delves deeply into the nature of heroism and villainy, exploring the ways in which these concepts can be both fluid and malleable.
The film presents us with two central characters: Jesse James, the notorious outlaw who is simultaneously idolized and feared, and Robert Ford, the young man who becomes obsessed with James and ultimately betrays him. These characters are complex and multifaceted, and the film challenges our perceptions of who is a hero and who is a villain.
Throughout the film, we see how Jesse James is revered by some as a Robin Hood-like figure, a symbol of resistance against a corrupt government and a beacon of hope for the oppressed. However, we also see how James is feared and hated by others, who view him as a violent and dangerous criminal. Similarly, Robert Ford is presented as both sympathetic and repulsive. On the one hand, we understand his desire for fame and fortune, and his need for validation from James. On the other hand, we see how his actions are driven by jealousy and cowardice, and how he ultimately becomes a pariah in his own right.
The film’s exploration of heroism and villainy is nuanced and complex, and it refuses to offer easy answers. Instead, it challenges us to question our own assumptions and biases, and to recognize the ways in which our perceptions of good and evil can be shaped by factors such as culture, history, and personal experience.
One of the film’s most powerful moments comes near the end, when Robert Ford is asked by a journalist why he killed Jesse James. Ford’s response is telling: “I guess I just wanted to be somebody he was afraid of.” In this moment, we see how the desire for power and respect can drive even the most heinous of actions, and how the line between heroism and villainy can be blurry at best.
“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is a film that challenges us to think critically about the nature of heroism and villainy, and to recognize the ways in which these concepts can be shaped by a wide range of factors. It is a thought-provoking and insightful film that lingers in the mind long after the credits have rolled.
“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is available to stream now on HBO Max!