Opening 25 Oct 2007
Arty, cinematographically exquisite, and authentic, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford should not to be mistaken for a thrill-ridden western. On the contrary, you would be hard-pressed to categorize it as anything other that a sharp and resounding character study of outlaws embraced in a psychological dance of who-trusts-who. Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and his brother Frank (Sam Shepard) complete the last train heist of their careers by recruiting local drifters, as many of the original gangsmen have either been killed or are in jail. Among the new accomplices is Bob Ford (Casey Affleck), younger brother of loyal but none-to-bright Charley Ford (Sam Rockwell). Bob is brought into the fold against Frank’s better judgement and Jesse’s unease at Bob’s stalker-like obsession with the legend that precedes him. Bob has spent his 19-year life idolizing the five-cent novel fictionalized Jesse and is all but begging to be included in the inner sanctum of the James gang.
When the gang disperses to their respective hideaways after the robbery, Bob is allowed to stay on with Jesse as he morphs into the role of Tom Howard, a family man who bears the stress of leading a double life of criminal/respectable businessman. Paranoid of being betrayed, Jesse swings in and out of the lives of the other gang members, playing mind games and making threats to uncover potential disloyalty. This behavior unsettles Bob as he begins understand that the real Jesse is someone to be feared, not for his legendary bravado, but rather as an insecure maniacal murderer. Described as an act of cowardice by general opinion, the real truth of the assassination might simply be that the obsessed must destroy the object of their desires, however much of an illusion they turn out to be, in order to survive.
Every actor has been cast in a career-defining performance, including the supporting roles of Dick Liddil (Paul Schneider) and Ed Miller (Garret Dillahunt). Director Andrew Dominik takes time in each scene to allow the smallest twitch or facial expression define the plot, which is the orchestration of complex relationships of mania, mistrust and realization in a world where the accepted laws of human nature do not apply.
Although the wild west never looked so beautiful in its snow-and-wheat field dark glory, it is painful to take away half a star for the length. At 160 minutes, it could have been just as effective in two hours: an editor’s nightmare to think of cutting such a masterpiece. (Kirstan Böttger)