Review of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Many have compared Andrew Dominik’s direction of this movie to that of Terrence Malick. I can see it: long, beautiful shots in outlaw country with wistful meditations on the nature of death and violence. If you like Malick, you should like this movie (do I have to spell out the entire title? Theater tickets read Jesse James!).
This is the second great Western of 2007, the other being 3:10 to Yuma. Both movies are wonderfully different, celebrating a different part of filmmaking. 3:10 to Yuma’s story is the focus, the director’s objective was to let that aspect come to the fore. With The Assassination of Jesse James…, the focus is on the moment to moment trajectories of its characters. Both films feature two males who have a fondness for each other. One mythological figure and one who aspires to be one. Their relationships are riddled with paranoia and distrust. Maybe in a different time and place, they could have been friends. It is impossible for me to say which of these films I like better, it is like deciding between water or air.
The Assassination of Jesse James…, as expected, much of the plot can be found in the title. Yet it never fails to be intriguing. The why over the what. Why is he going to do it? Why? Why? Why? And the answer is never promised in a neat psych class term paper. It is to be expected from the start that the answers are more subtle but nevertheless there.
Ultimately, the film concerns itself with myth. Not in a myth but in the unraveling of it, the results of that unraveling. Meaning, we learn many myths when we are young, things that spark our imagination but eventually as one breaks, we seek to break another. At first, we break them inside of us and in other times, we seek it to break it for others permanently. In many ways, this film mourns those losses.
My recommendation is to see the film in the theaters. Do not wait for DVD, you will miss so much of the cinematic beauty. The editing is wonderfully daring. At times, I couldn’t help thinking how they got away with keeping so much of the film. Great ensemble cast. I am always amazed how Brad Pitt invents ways to bring attention to his mouth. Casey Affleck is perfectly casted, it would have been a shame if the Coward Robert Ford were portrayed by another actor.