The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 6


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (if anything my word count is going to be quite high in this piece!) is a thing of rare beauty. The pace of the storytelling is almost glacial but somehow that never seems to matter, what actually occurs is quite minimal but somehow seems dramatic and highly important. These things just go to show how well this film is made as it is a wonderful example of what you can do with film.

Having been on my radar for a long time I finally decided to do something about it. With my new home cinema screen and projector in place, a newly bought Blu-Ray in the player and the volume turned up high I was ready to engage with this film in the best way that I could.

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Andrew Dominik’s direction is steady and captures all the right moments throughout the story, giving the right amount of background before moving into the main. The fact that this is his screenplay too heaps all the more praise onto him as it is a compelling story, told in sections with a narrator filling you in between them.

On top of the excellent work by Domink you have the masterful work of Roger Deakins flowing through every single scene. It is simply a glorious film to look at. I have yet to be disappointed with any of this man’s work and this is right up there with the best of them. The pace of the story just allows more time for the imagery to sink in, time for your eyes to fully appreciate the work that is on display. I could just keep adding still images from this film here and be completely happy!

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Totally different in tone to a lot of westerns, this slow burner invites you into the life of the legendary Jesse James and shows his two-sided nature of outlaw and careful family man, both superbly portrayed by Brad Pitt. This is one of his best performances IMO (I’m a big fan of Se7en, which I think is his best), it isn’t an over the top, look-at-me performance but toned down, composed acting from someone in complete control of the character and it is truly great to watch. Pitt’s portrayal of Jesse’s slow descent into paranoia just highlights how good of an actor he is. Contrasting with the performance of Casey Affleck as Robert Ford, one of the young members of his gang from the last train robbery: awkward and starry eyed in his demeanour yet so desperate to make his impression on his hero it is bordering on pitiful, whilst also seeming to be a bit too sensitive for this time and the type of life he is yearning for. Great casting to get these two in place but the supporting cast is also very accomplished and play their part in creating this fantastic story too: Jeremy Renner, Sam Rockwell, Sam Shepard, Paul Schneider, Garret Dillahunt, Mary-Louise Parker. As great as the cast is, this film is mostly about the interaction between James and Ford (the younger). With Robert providing counsel, unwise and otherwise, to Jesse when he is given the chance and never letting go.

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To add to the atmosphere that pervades this film the score is melancholic and ponderous but it is completely suited to this film and credit must go to Nick Cave and Warren Ellis for another superb collection. Never in your face but subtly adding to the drama unfolding slowly, and beautifully, in front of you.

I’m glad that I have finally got around to watching this film albeit a bit sad that it took me so long to get around to it and to not able to see it on the big screen, but this is a film to be experienced, another one of Roger Deakins’ gorgeous films. This is also one of those films where you want to find out more about the characters and the story because you invested yourself into it so much. The book from which this film was derived is on its way.

Note to self: They don’t make them like this often, when they do, make sure you catch it on the big screen!

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6 thoughts on “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

  • thoughtsallsorts

    Oooh, now I absolutely need to get around to watching this one. I love westerns and I’ve heard so many good things about this one. I’ve even got the book patiently waiting on my bedside table. I’d better watch or read this. Great post.

    • Gavin McHugh Post author

      Thanks!
      I’d be interested to know how the book and film compare as it may take me a while to finish my current book and get onto this one.
      And yes, you should definitely watch it. It is never too late to appreciate a great film.

  • Paul S

    The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford reminded me of a ballad, a folk song maybe.Those golden wheat fields reminded me of Malick’s Days of Heaven. Brad Pitt’s Jesse is as menacing as Daniel Plainview, even the wind dare not blow in his direction. This is a true work of art, a poetic study of mankind’s deepest and darkest feelings, Just brilliant film making, acting and storytelling.

    • Gavin McHugh Post author

      Wow, you’ve just outdone me in that paragraph! Fantastic words to describe this fantastic film