Short Review: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominic, 2007)
Fueled by fine performances in the lead roles by Brad Pitt (as Jesse James) and a pitch-perfect Casey Affleck (as Bob Ford), this is a mesmerizing account of the legend of one of the West's most notorious outlaws and his cohorts. Having grown up idolizing Jesse, the insecure and unpopular Bob Ford tracks down his gang as they prepare for a train robbery, where he makes some petty attempts to join the gang. Despite Jesse's bullying of Bob, they form a friendship mostly through Bob's obsessive admiration for the man. Later, when the gang members have gone their separate ways, Jesse returns in search of his former colleagues, some of whom have fallen in cahoots with a conspirator set to capture Jesse for the offered bounty, causing unrest and mistrust within the gang. He re-kindles a working relationship with Bob and his brother Charlie (Sam Rockwell), living together for a spell. But Bob discovers that he is not the same man as he had long worshiped. With Jesse thinking of suicide as his sanity becoming more troubled, and with the Ford brothers convinced that Jesse may soon kill them, Bob decides to kill him first. The murder of James at first turned the brothers into celebrities, and they are asked to re-enact the assassination in a theatrical production. Following Charlie's suicide, Bob becomes a publicly shunned coward, and ultimately a depressed alcoholic overwhelmed with guilt. Director Andrew Dominik really owes a lot to legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins for making his film look so beautiful. He renders the film to appear incredibly bleak by utilizing strong palettes of brown and black, while many of the stunning night sequences were endowed with a heavy sense of atmosphere. The score, which is a collaboration between Australian artists Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and also works well. While slightly overlong, this is a beautifully constructed film that conforms to the classic Western tropes, notably the meandering passage of time, the imposing landscape and the sudden bursts of brutal violence.