The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is the oh-so succinctly titled cinematic tale of one of the most famous American outlaws of all time, the infamous Jesse James (Brad Pitt). The film, more about characters than crime set pieces, shows how Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) went from Jesse James fanboy to resenting him to the point of betrayal.
A slow, slow burn. This is a long movie, and it feels long. It’s based around character relationships and dialogue, not set pieces, so there aren’t any big action scenes — this may alienate some of the more casual movie watchers. Additionally, the film does take a while to get into the central Ford and James conflict. The main story hook doesn’t come until a way into the movie, and the beginning does test one’s patience. The film could’ve also been trimmed a bit to cut down on the lengthy runtime and tighten up the pace.
It sure is pretty. The film, shot by the magnificently talented and eternally snubbed Roger Deakins, features some gorgeous, subtle cinematography and immersive production design. It’s hard to question that the film is set in the 1880s, as it looks totally legitimate. There are also some dream-like vignettes with — get this — vignette images, which are curiously obvious and not very inspired that accompany some period-accurate narration. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ melancholic score accompanies the visuals very well while staying subtle and unobtrusive.
Dance, monkeys, dance! The performances all around are pretty solid, with Casey Affleck stealing the show as the naive, young Robert Ford. His descent into bitterness is shown in a relatable way that makes one question his so-called cowardice. Brad Pitt is pretty understated, though still great with some moments of sociopathic behavior and overall craziness boiling under his reluctance for fame. The supporting cast is kept on a pretty short leash with the incomparable Sam Rockwell playing a restrained, yet interesting role.