ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, THE
The 19 year old Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), younger brother of Charley Ford (Sam Rockwell) of the James gang, has idolized Jesse James (Brad Pitt) since childhood. He tries hard to join the reforming gang of the Missouri outlaw, who is now 34, but gradually becomes resentful of the bandit leader.
Review by Louise Keller:
From the violence of Chopper to the soulful restraint of Jesse James, Andrew Dominik's portrait of the notorious, celebrated outlaw is cinematic, considered and poetic. Propelled by the enigmatic music from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, the mood that Dominik creates is palpably dense, almost engulfing us as we leisurely enter the world of the formidable Jesse James.
It's a mature and complete performance by Brad Pitt, whose indelible take on the bank robber, murderer, fugitive, husband and father is as beguiling as the Jesse James legend itself. Countering Pitt's nuanced Jesse James is Casey Affleck's astonishing portrayal of Robert Ford, who betrays his idol after suffocating from jealousy and resentment. The film is long and detailed, but so are the rewards.
'You want to be like me, or be me?' Pitt's Jesse James asks Affleck's Robert Ford in an almost bemused fashion. Not only does Ford keep a special cardboard box under his bed with James memorabilia, but he is proudly au fait with the parallels and similarities they share. Ford is convinced he is destined for great things ('I've been a nobody all my life'); his ambitions are easy to detect behind his smarmy smile.
Tension builds from the uncertainty of the relationships. Sam Rockwell is a standout as Robert's sheepish older brother Charley, Paul Schneider is excellent as gang member Dick Liddle and the ever-credible Sam Shepard leaves a mark as Jesse's brother Frank. As the outlaw's calm wife and mother to his children, Mary Louise Parker brings an extra dimension.
Based on Ron Hansen's novel, Dominik's screenplay concentrates on treating us to a real glimpse into Jesse James' life. We get a taste for being part of the gang at the final Blue Cut railroad job before James' retirement and exile. It's as though we are watching him through a frosted window pane. The clouds move quickly, the wind whistles through the golden wheat fields and the snow is pristine on the fir trees. There are conversations with slow pauses. James rides his horse, keeps his gun holster tightly strung and sits in a rocking chair, characteristically twirling his man-size cigar in his parted lips. Enhanced by superb production design, the spell of Jesse James lingers.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The outlaw Jesse James was one of the first American celebrities, enjoying the fame that the printing press could deliver in the growing United States of the early 1880. His notoriety was laundered by romanticised tales that likened him to Robin Hood, washing away his murderous deeds and cruel, arrogant nature. He was a sum of his media parts as much as a feared bandit who robbed trains and banks with his gang.
Casey Affleck delivers the film's most haunting performance as Robert Ford, the 19 year old hanger on whose brother Charley (Sam Rockwell in wonderful, complex form) is already a part of the Jesse James gang. But Robert is a little strange in his obsession with James, which makes James unsure about him. Brad Pitt paints James as an enigmatic, edgy, volatile and indeed sometimes vile figure, verging on mentally unstable.
Andrew Dominik, clearly enamoured with Ron Hansen's much praised novel, adapts the book with intense attention to its rich, textured style. I haven't read it myself, but Newsweek's Peter S. Prescott describes it well: "The language of Hansen's novel is dense and textured, requiring careful reading. The pleasure of the book is in the eloquence of its dialogue and description, which are both literary and historically appropriate." The film reflects these elements - to a fault. The first two hours is diminished by a lack of clarity, a result of both the complexity of characters and relationships and a fearfully difficult dialogue - both in period style and in sheer audibility. The screenplay seems to have been driven by a desire not to miss any of the nuances and textures of Hansen's book, which is a problematic approach for cinema. The result seems like a meandering, unfocused screenplay that breaks down our willingness to be transported by it.
In every technical detail (save the dialogue mix), the film is outstanding, with stunning cinematography and production design. The performances of the entire cast - and there is a large cast - is exemplary, and Dominik's ability to sustain tension in the latter scenes is admirable. While it is acknowledged that the exact details of the last days or months of Jesse's life will never be known, the film gives us an opportunity to appraise it as fictionalised biography - and at least as valid as the many others in that genre.
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ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, THE (MA)
CAST: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Mary-Louise Parker, Brooklynn Proulx, Dustin Bollinger, Jeremy Renner, Sam Shepard, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Schneider, Tom Aldredge, Jesse Frechette, Pat Healy, Michael Parks, Ted Levine
PRODUCER: Jules Daly, Dede Gardner, Brad Pitt, Ridley Scott, David Valdes
DIRECTOR: Andrew Dominik
SCRIPT: Andrew Dominik (novel by Ron Hansen)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Deakins
EDITOR: Curtiss Clayton, Dylan Tichenor
MUSIC: Nick Cave
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Patricia Norris
RUNNING TIME: 160 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 1, 2007