The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Mary-Louise Parker
Running time: 140 minutes
Directed By: Andrew Dominik
Written By: Andrew Dominik
In 1881 Jesse James (Pitt) was an outlaw. He was known to steal and murder. In 1881 he took part in his final train robbery, with his brother Frank (Shepard) and a new crew of his, after the death or arrest of his previous crew members. One of these new members is Charlie Ford (Sam Rockwell). Charlie's brother is Robert Ford (Affleck), a twenty year old in complete awe of Jesse James, being able to cite his stories and his trivia off the top of his head. He asks Jesse to join his gang and when Jesse accepts he does all he can to prove his worth, so much so that after the robbery Jesse asks Robert to stick around with him whilst the other members scatter across the country. Jesse seems to like the attention Robert puts on him. It makes him feel celebrity like. However after a while Robert's infatuation becomes too much and Jesse begins to wander about his new friend. He sends him off to join his brothers as the star struck Ford becomes too much.
Over the next few months the Ford brothers live at home with two other gang members who are constantly at each other's throats. So much so that one day it ends in one of their deaths. Meanwhile Jesse scales the country, killing those who are likely to betray him. He finally catches back up with the Ford brothers and asks them to accompany him on a bank heist. They set off to Jesse James house, for refuge until the robbery will take place, where Jesse's brutality, unpredictability and intimidation shine through, turning Ford from one time stalker to a potential killer. Ford's new emotions toward Jesse and a huge reward prize over his head, leave Robert Ford only one option. An option he must take before it is too late.
You may think I have given away too much there, but if you read the title you will realise I have not. We all know that the story is about Jesse James murder, and how he was betrayed by one of his most faithful partners, Robert Ford. This just shows you how and why it happened. You may already know if you have researched into this outlaw but if you don't this film is the exact story of his death, including the aftermath where Ford is labelled the coward.
The film is really brought to life by the performances. There are other good things about it, but the best aspect is the acting talent. For starters Brad Pitt is fantastic. He plays James with a sense of mystery and fear. The look in his eyes allows you to register what he is thinking without giving too much away. He also starts off as charming and ends up as a man you hate. The performance alone does all of this, even the dignity shown in his death when he either realises that his time is up, or he is testing Robert Ford's bravery. The entire performance is one that shows us so much. One of Pitt's best to date. Sam Rockwell is also very good as the slightly brain-less Charlie Ford. His reactions when lying are realistic, and they make us feel as if he really is hiding something. Jeremy Renner also pops up in a small role and is also very good, except from when he is obviously wearing a fake beard. The surprise breakthrough however comes from Casey Affleck who seems every bit Robert Ford. He begins timid, stuttering through his lines, in awe of Jesse, and as the film continues you can physically see him hide deeper inside himself before plucking up the courage to commit his deed. The events shown after the death are some of Affleck's best work, where he expects applause for shooting his gang leader but is surprised to see himself branded a coward. His slide back into his cave is brilliantly shown by Affleck. He is a great acting talent and here he really shows it. The cinematography is also beautiful showing us some lovely shots in wide open lands to show how isolated these characters really are.
The problem with the film then lies in the running time and the dire middle sector. The opening thirty minutes and the final forty five are great but the middle seventy minutes become dull. Too much time is spent away from the two leads, following characters that are not as integral to the plot. Sure they all have reasons for being there but we spend too much time concentrating on them when we really want to see the two leads. During the entire middle sector Pitt and Affleck hardly share a scene and they are the two you are really there to see.
The acting of this film pulls it through the middle slump, and I only think that if the film was cut slightly it could have been better. The bookends of the film are riveting but the middle becomes boring and the film becomes a drag, which is a shame considering the positives within this film. People seem to slate Pitt's acting talents and I advise them to all watch this to see how good he actually is. They will also be pleasantly surprised to see a man with the surname Affleck actually can act.
3 / 5
Next film to review: THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE