Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

By s. Tuesday, November 1, 2011 , , , , , , , ,
(160 min, 2007)
Plot: Robert Ford, who's idolized Jesse James since childhood, tries hard to join the reforming gang of the Missouri outlaw, but gradually becomes resentful of the bandit leader.
Director: Andrew Dominik
Writers: Andrew Dominik (screenplay), Ron Hansen (novel)
Stars: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck and Sam Rockwell

What must be done

"Making "James" was a long and arduous process. There was a well-publicized tug-of-war between director Andrew Dominik, who caught Hollywood's attention with indie title "Chopper" and Warners over the editing of the film. Warners' wasn't entirely in sync with the pacing of the movie, or the length. Dominik was thinking more like 'Terence Malick' in examining the relationship between the famous outlaw and his eventual assassin, Robert Ford, played by Casey Affleck. Warners was in favor of having at least a bit more action. Ultimately, Warners went with Dominik's version, even though Dominik didn't have final cut as part of his contract. Part of the reason was that Pitt, who produced the movie through his Plan B shingle, backed Dominik. At one point along the way, Pitt and exec producer Ridley Scott had put together their own cut. When it tested to only so-so results, they went back to Dominik's. The original cut of "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" was nearly four hours long. It was edited down to two hours and forty minutes, its current run time, at the studio's request. However, it did play at least once at its original 4-hour length, most notably at the Venice Film Festival, where Brad Pitt picked up the Best Actor Award. After the viewing, critics at the festival called the film "majestic.""
- imdb.com

It's funny that Mallick was actually an influence on this movie - unlike horribly boring "The Tree of Life", "The assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" enchants from the very first moments and cinematic magic never fades away from the scenes. Unlike Mallick's pointless drivel this movie has actual story and full blooded characters we care for. Brad Pitt presumably wanted to repeat the artistic success of "James", which he claims is his favorite movie he starred in and that's why he wandered off to Mallick. Well now Mr Pitt has two movies I can't stand in his filmography. The other one being "Troy".

I don't like westerns, I don't like outlaws stories. I don't in particular like Pitt, but you gotta hand it over to the man - he knows how to pick up the roles and he is hardly ever wrong. And I could try. I could try to summarize to you all the reasons for which this is one of the best movies I've seen. I could try to find words, accurate enough to describe how beautiful the soundtrack and the closing track of it "Song for Bob" are and why I'm promptly going to update my list of best soundtracks ever made. But this movie, much like "Solaris" and "Amelie" has such intangible, evanescent ambiance you can't capture it with words. You have to see it, in all its glory, in motion.

This movie feels complete and so perfect, that I dread the note I'd give to the unreleased Director's Cut, which is 240 minutes long and which was only screen once, on Venice film festival. The acting by Academy Award nominated Casey Affleck, Brad Pitt, Sam Rockwell and Paul Shneider is outstanding. Everyone is so good, even usually bland Zooey Deschanel who appears briefly near the end of the movie. They become their characters, they breathe their emotions and director Andrew Dominik lets the events unfold and guides us through the story. There are many familiar faces in this movie, many characters. But the events aren't told rushely and with every single situation we first get to know the characters, then their emotions and then their relations with other people in this story.

"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" has masterful character development - almost every character has some unique traits, there is a bond with the viewer - the narrator and tiny scenes show us very personal details about those people we are watching. And that is the key to success - the movie is very long, 160 minutes, but because of that character development the scenes where Jesse is trying to figure whether or not his associates are lying to him are so powerful - we care for both sides of the conflict. And when the bullets will be shot and they will pierce the silence or the beautiful score that accompanies the film - we will feel devastated. Jesse, who is said to be ruthless outlaw, as the, at first, main hero of the story is given a back story through a series of dreamy images, where he touches the wheat with his fingers (homage to "Gladiator", the foreshadowing of character's doom) and cares for his kids, watching clouds, watching nature. Fairytale narration accompanies the scene creating a curious contrast between the outlaw and a family man, perhaps even a dreamer. Somebody who regrets horrible things he has done and knowing he can't take them back only adds to his tragedy.
The title scene is hands down, one of the best scenes in the cinema history and I will fight every person who denies that. I saw it three times in the row and I still cannot believe how perfect it is.The subtlety, the movements of all the three people involved - Affleck's face glowing with determination, Rockwell lowering his head in the sense of deepest shame and Pitt showing resignation and in this quiet defeat - honor.The scene plays like a quiet and delicate dance and when the shot is fired, the suspension of magic is lifted and all there is becomes only screaming and blood. The music by always unbelievably great Nick Cave and Warren Ellis and the cinematography give the film haunting, magical quality.. It is not supposed to be re-watched many times, like entertaining, quotable movies. But if you see it once, if you focus well enough you will have a feeling that you are watching the masterpiece - with all the elements perfectly blending in together, creating the haunting picture of two men - one living by his own rules, another being the coward and the weak one. That's why even in death, some prevail and some are forgotten.
97 /100


  1. I couldn't agree more... I really like this film and Pitt's performance in it. Great review and awesome blog, Sati! I'll sure check it out regularly. :)

  2. this review makes me want to check out all your other reviews, as this is the best movie ive ever seen. you, my friend, know what your talking about

    1. Thank you so much, glad you enjoyed reading it! I'm a huge fan of this movie.