The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Directed by Andrew Dominik
Based on the novel The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen
Screenplay by Andrew Dominik
Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, Garret Dillahunt, Mary-Louise Parker, Paul Schneider, Brooklynn Proulx, Dustin Bollinger
Robert Ford (Affleck) grew up idolizing Jesse James (Pitt), dreaming of the chance to join him in his gang. When the opportunity finally comes, Ford is quickly exposed to a far less glamorous reality. As Ford continues to work with James he begins to resent James and his erratic behavior. All of this resentment comes to a head, leaving James dead and Ford labeled a coward by many. In the aftermath of the killing, Ford is forced to live off of his questionable reputation.
This film is a unique Western based on the novel of the same name written by Ron Hansen (Missing Pieces). The book was adapted by Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly), who also directed the film. The cast of the film is a lengthy list of talented stars that starts with Brad Pitt (Fury) and Casey Affleck (Out of the Furnace). The cast also includes Sam Shepard (Days of Heaven), Sam Rockwell (Moon), Jeremy Renner (American Hustle), and Garret Dillahunt (Looper). Also included are Mary-Louise Parker (The Client), Paul Schneider (Water for Elephants), Brooklynn Proulx (Valentine’s Day), and Dustin Bollinger (Water Under the Bridge).
This story is a unique twist that keeps this outside the realm of more traditional Westerns. Ron Hansen’s novel was nicely adapted by Andrew Dominik, who manages to bring a lot of tension into the story. The film runs long, at 160 minutes, but the pacing manages to stay consistent throughout. The strength of the writing is the ability to use images instead of dialogue to express much of the emotional strain between the characters. Each of the characters also feels unique and authentic to the story being told.When dialogue comes into the film it seems to avoid feeling forced. Instead of long-winded expositions, this movie seems to keep things simple and direct.
Despite the length, the story does a lot of wonderful exploration into the relationship between crime and fame. The writing does a lot of good things with this story, but it still might lose some viewers due to the length. While some critics loved the film, others were less enthusiastic about the story. Salon.com writer Stephanie Zacharek said, “It may be the first time we’ve been asked to watch a book on tape.” In the end, I think this offers a wonderful story built around one of America’s folk hero criminals. The length is made up for by the quality of the story being told.
Brad Pitt was an excellent choice to star in this movie. His ability to remain cold and distant plays perfectly with the erratic nature of his character. Throughout the film he manages to play a huge range of emotions. This film is just another good example of his great talent. If you’ve ever doubted Casey Affleck’s talent, this is the film to erase that doubt. His performance is equal to, if not better than Brad Pitt’s part in this movie. Affleck’s role is such a conflicted and emotional mess, and he does such wonderful things with it. In many ways, he seems to mature his character throughout the film. The end result is a man who is incredibly different from the character we’re introduced to early in the film. Casey Affleck was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this film.
Sam Shepard, Sam Rockwell, Garret Dillahunt, and Jeremy Renner are four more great actors in this movie. Each of the men managed to create a very authentic feel for their character. The conflict within each of their characters is displayed in an almost uncomfortable physical manner. Each of them is unique, but the tension feels the same. Along with these great actors, Mary-Louise Parker, Paul Schneider, Brooklyn Proulx, and Dustin Bollinger all do great work in their roles. All of the actors had a tough job in this movie. The story is very deeply tied to the emotional connection each character had with one another. The chemistry between these actors managed to bring it all out nicely.
The visuals in this movie are so beautiful. Much of the film seems to come out of a Terrence Malick movie, with every moment feeling epic and perfectly staged. The use of color and contrast, along with great lighting, help the scenes to build the necessary emotion. The camera work is wonderful and the locations used seem to create the right authenticity for the story. Cinematographer Roger Deakins created a masterpiece in this movie. He was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. The other aspects of the movie are also good, including the costuming, set design, and makeup work. The film also features good music from Nick Cave (Lawless) and Warren Ellis (The Proposition).
This film is an interesting example of art and entertainment not meeting together with popular culture. Despite the obvious successes within the movie, the commercial success evaded the film. The critics were equally divided, mainly over the pace and length of this movie. If you’re a fan of emotional drama and history, this is one for you. I would also recommend this to fans of any of the great actors in it. This is a long movie, prone to moments of silence that are used to build the tension. If you’re an impatient movie watcher, this might not be your thing. I give this one 4.8 out of 5 stars.
It’s a little too long for its own good, but it’s still packed with amazing performances that it makes it totally worth watching. Good review.
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I think the only issue I had with the length was some of the more repetitive moments in the second act. Thanks again for great comments and for the support!
I remember trying to watch this for the first time and I didn’t know why it was getting so much praise as it bored me to death and I actually turned it off. Years later I decided to check it out again and had no idea why that happened the first time. It is an amazing looking film with a very interesting story.