The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
See the title. Jesse James played by Brad Pitt with Casey Affleck as Bob Ford.
Not a Western in the usual sense, but a heartfelt and sombre drama. It’s also one of the most handsomely-shot movies I have ever seen. Visual high points are numerable. The train robbery at the beginning of the movie is one – the train arriving and its lights illuminating the masked-faces of the robbers in waiting are breath-taking pieces of cinematography. The shifting skies and blowing wheat fields that accompany the accented narration are dreamy, and you sometimes feel like you are hearing this story from the foot of an elderly raconteur’s chair amongst a swirl of pipe-smoke.
Casey Affleck shivers the soul as the besotted and disturbed Bob Ford, putting in a quite ghoulish performance both visually and psychologically. Sam Shepherd may have a mere cameo role as the elder James but his line to Affleck in the first ten minutes is impeccable in its accuracy of Affleck’s performance: “ I don’t know what it is about you, but the more you talk, the more you give me the willies.”
Pitt is understated as Jesse. But the kind of effortless amble and irrevocable fatalism he brings to the role are more than enough to see this one home. Once James has been assassinated – moments after uttering the final words “ Don’t that picture look dusty?” – you think the movie is all but done. However, you’d be wrong because Ford himself – as well as his travelling stage show about the assassination – become the focus, breathing new life into the screenplay when you think it’s bottomed out.
Nick Cave’s perfect score is wondrous and his bit-part as a minstrel taunting the disgraced Ford is one of the best scenes in the film. The final shots of the movie are done in a kind of stop-motion technique as yet another glory – or is it infamy? – seeking nobody attempts to capture the headlines whilst assassinating Bob Ford, the man who himself shot Jesse James. This circular theme, and the inevitability of Ford’s own demise, closes the film like a perfect knot.
Whilst this isn’t a film with has a lot to say about the West , it speaks wholesomely of the insatiable yearning for celebrity within us all.
Hotdog rating: 9/10