Although it moves at a snail's pace, Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is an outstanding film. Dominik's direction is superb. Roger Deakins proves once again why he's one of the best cinematographers in the business, if not the best.
Even though Brad Pitt is top billed portraying Jesse James, the story actually revolves around Casey Affleck's Robert Ford. Bob Ford is a 19-year-old kid who has idolized Jesse James his entire life. His older brother Charley (Sam Rockwell) has recently been recruited by Jesse and his brother Frank (Sam Shepard) to join his gang in an attempt to rob a train.
While the gang is setting up and getting ready for the robbery, Bob is keeping himself busy by talking to Frank and Jesse James. Frank is very apprehensive towards young Robert, but Jesse is much more receptive and personable. Bob is told to stay away from the robbery tonight, but he sees big things for himself in the future.
Over the next few days Robert becomes rather friendly with Jesse. He helps him with odd jobs around the house, and he seems convinced that when another job comes along Jesse will want him on the crew. When the work he is needed for is complete, Jesse sends him home to wait until he needs him again.
Robert lives in a cottage with his sister and Charley, as well as various other members of the Jesse James gang who come to stay there while they're in the area. At the current time, Jesse's cousin Wood Hite (Jeremy Renner) and Dick Liddil (Paul Schneider) are residing at the abode. From the Ford household, Wood and Liddil now head to Wood's father's home.
Dick is a bit of a womanizer, and Wood's father is married to a beautiful young woman. Wood warns Dick to stay away from his father's wife, but Dick doesn't pay any attention and this leads to a falling out between the two.
A couple of months later, Dick is back at the Ford cottage. He's upstairs sleeping one morning when Wood comes looking for him. There is still a lot of bad blood between the two, and either one of them would kill the other given the chance. Wood heads upstairs to shoot Dick, but Dick is waiting for him, gun drawn. What ensues is a shootout between the two former friends, which ends with Bob shooting Wood in the head in order to save Dick's life.
Not long after this event occurs, Jesse comes by looking for someone to ride with him and help him knock off some banks. The fact that Bob killed Jesse's cousin makes both Bob and Charley very nervous. Jesse is notorious for his wild temper, and they know that if he were to find out it, they would be killed. Although Jesse inquired about Wood's whereabouts, he believes the Ford brothers when they tell him they have not seen him.
After a little while on the road, Charley convinces Jesse to let Bob join them. The more time Bob spends with Jesse, the more his admiration weakens and his hatred grows. It becomes painfully obvious that either Bob is going to kill Jesse, or Jesse is going to kill Bob. You already know which one it was.
No review of this film would be complete without mentioning the homosexual undertones between Ford and James. James is obviously not a homosexual, and I don't believe Ford was either, but his admiration for James was so intense that it needed some kind of sexual release, which was obviously out of the question. Without this much-needed release, the admiration turned to extreme hatred.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is really an exceptional picture, however, it is not an action film. I heard stories of teenagers going into the theater expecting action and actually walking out. I would hate for someone to be expecting something so drastically different from what they get that they would feel that strongly against this picture.
As I mentioned earlier, Roger Deakins' cinematography in this film is absolutely splendid. He also did the cinematography on No Country for Old Men, as well as The Shawshank Redemption and many other great films. The way he shoots landscapes is reminiscent of an old David Lean epic.
Casey Affleck is absolutely superb in his Oscar-nominated role as Robert Ford. He shows great range and versatility taking on the many complex moods of the character. Brad Pitt, as always, is also magnificent. I have yet to see him perform poorly in any of his films. He can truly play any role and have you lost in his portrayal or his character.
I would definitely recommend The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. With beautiful cinematography, brilliant acting, and great direction, it should go near the top of anyone’s list. Just please don't fool yourself into thinking you're going to see some fast paced shoot-‘em up.
Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = B+