The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

 
Directed by: Andrew Dominik
Written by:Andrew Dominik
Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Sam Shepard, Mary-Louise Parker
Released: November 1, 2007
Grade: B-

History was never my strong suit at school and before seeing this film, I didn’t know much about the life of Jesse James.  The name of the movie told me something though - he was killed by the “coward” Robert Ford.  It’s an interesting title, isn’t it?  It makes it very clear what the filmmakers (at the very least) think of Robert Ford.  Furthermore, of the 2,244 movies I’ve critiqued on my website to date, none have a longer title.

If you think this is an action-packed robbery movie, think again.  Whilst Jesse James was one of history’s most famous outlaws, you only get to see him “at work” in the opening half hour.  James and his crew rob a train in Missouri.  It’s an unsuccessful operation and they get very little cash from the people on board.  Following the heist, the state authorities put out an arrest warrant for Jesse James and offer a reward for anyone who can help find him.

The next hours (yes, it’s a long one) are spent watching Jesse evade his potential captors.  He kept on the move and confided in no one.  He was worried about the police but even more worried by his friends – would they sell him out for the reward money.  No one could be trusted and the self-doubt started to take its toll.

Robert Ford was the man who would kill James.  He was a member of his gang and just 20 years of age.  Ford had idolised Jesse growing up and had read all about him in the papers and in books.  It’s hard to believe that he was the man who pulled the trigger.  This film focuses on Ford as much as it does James.  We see things from both perspectives in the lead-up to the assassination on April 3, 1882.

To be honest, I found it all rather boring and tedious.  Not a lot happens and not much is said for the 160 minute duration.  I also had trouble following who was who and what their relationship was with other characters.  Perhaps I should have been paying more attention.  The cinematography and soft music score make it a beautiful-looking film but there isn’t enough substance.

It may be a legendary American tale but an Australian is sitting in the director’s seat.  It has been written and directed by 40-year-old Andrew Dominik.  This is only his second film after having made the much loved Chopper in 2000.  There’s a similarity in both stories in that Dominik is trying to take a real-life “bad guy” and show him in a different light.

I liked Casey Affleck’s performance most as Robert Ford.  Brad Pitt didn’t quite do it for me as Jesse James.  I was surprised to learn that he won best actor at the recent Venice Film Festival.  I’m confident that it won’t be replicated at next year’s Oscars.

The best part of this film is its ending.  We find out what happens to Robert Ford in the aftermath of Jesse James’s death.  It gave me a few things to think about.  Whether you’re prepared to sit through the first two and a half hours of this film to get to this finale, is up to you.