Top 100 Films #69 – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)


-#69. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Directed by: Andrew Dominik
Written by: Andrew Dominik (based on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen)
Starring: Casey Affleck, Brad Pitt, Sam Shepard, Mary-Louise Parker, Paul Schneider, Jeremy Renner, Zooey Deschanel, Sam Rockwell

I was finally able to see Andrew Dominik’s seminal film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford last October, and I adored every minute of it.  While it may seem slow paced to some, Dominik’s deliberate pacing is exactly why the film succeeds in every way.  The Assassination of Jesse James is about exactly what the title suggests – we follow legendary outlaw Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and the James Gang as they rob trains and hide out in the woods, as well as at homes of their various members.  Young James Gang member Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) has been drawn to Jesse James by the lore that surrounds him – Ford both respects and fears the leader of the gang, and for good reason. Ford and other members of the Gang eventually conspire to assassinate their leader in exchange for the hefty bounty placed on his head.  The Assassination of Jesse James is a beautiful and intimate character study about one of America’s most interesting personalities, and a compelling look at the man who killed a legend for five seconds of fame.  Dominik’s script is carefully paced, placing emphasis on the development of our two main characters, rather than on large action set pieces.  The careful pacing of the film is perfect, building on the obvious tensions felt by the main characters.  By the time the film reaches the point of its titular assassination, I was on the edge of my seat – even though I knew exactly what was to come.  Cinematographer Roger Deakins photographed the film, often giving the film a worn, grainy look to evoke a sense of nostalgia. The film’s famous train robbery scene is easily Deakins’ standout moment in The Assassination of Jesse James, employing almost total darkness and natural lighting that makes the already intense scene feel even more immediate.  Andrew Dominik directs veteran actors Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck to two incredible performances, with both men giving rather subdued, quiet turns as Jesse James and Robert Ford respectively.  We spend enough time with both men to understand their characters inside and out – their motivations and aspirations are clear, as are their totally different views on life.  It’s a shame that the film was released in the same year as No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, because it truly is a masterpiece on the same level as those terrific films.  If you’re a fan of westerns or intimate, satisfying character studies, the The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is absolutely for you.


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