Review — The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Posted: July 8, 2010 in Danny Moltrasi, Film, Reviews
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[Author: Danny Moltrasi]

“It’s interesting the many ways you and I overlap…”

Today we’re introducing another new contributor to the Dorkosphere, Danny Moltrasi! Read his fantastic review of this great film you may have missed after the jump!

If you are a fan of the formulaic Western genre movie, you may be in for a surprise when you tune into this film, but it’s a surprise that is worth the two and a half hour adventure. The New Zealand born, Australian director, Dominik, handles the film in such a fantastically interesting and different way, it’s difficult for the film not that leave an imprint in your mind. Add to the mix a beautiful setting, beautiful cinematography, a beautiful soundtrack and two stellar performances from Brad Pitt, and Casey Affleck, you are bound to be impressed.

English film critic Mark Kermode famously said in his review that The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford that “when the books documenting the history of the 21st century film are written, Andrew Dominik’s magical feature will surely feature as one of the most wrongly neglected masterpieces of its era.” It’s hard to disagree with him calling it a masterpiece, but the tide certainly seems to be turning in terms of it being neglected. The growing support behind this film, at least among big cinema-fans is there, and its justly so. The film is truly an impressive piece of cinema to sit and watch. Dominik handles the film is such a way that it blows a lot of other Western’s out of the water in its deconstruction of the typical American rogue-hero. Jesse James (Brad Pitt), the American Robin Hood, is not seen as a hero, but more of a broken, lonely, paranoid soul. But what is even more heart-breaking is the representation of the coward himself, that of Robert Ford. It is hard not to watch the film and not feel a huge amount of sympathy and heartbreak for him. It’s a tale that in a modern-day celebrity culture, is very common, the only difference that this film is set more than 100 years ago. 19-year-old Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) idolizes James, he has all the comics, and knows everything about him, however once meeting him, what he expected James to be, turns out not to be what he wanted. What originally began as a homoerotic relationship, at least on Fords half, (scenes where Ford sneaks up on James in the bathtub, is just one of a few underlying homoerotic moments), quickly turns into anger and disappointment. It is hard to watch, but gripping at the same time, as Affleck gets the performance bang-on perfect. One of the hardest and upsetting moments is seeing Fords prized collection of comics and memories of James being mocked by Charley Ford (Sam Rockwell) and Wood Hite (Jeremy Renner), but it sticks hard in the memory. It is clear that Ford is in love with James, and subconsciously knowing that James is out of his reach, the frustration of the situation builds up until it reaches the situation of “if I can’t have him, no one can.”’

The study of the aftermath of the assassination itself provides one of the most interesting conclusion to a film that I have seen. How did a man who killed such an awful criminal such as Jesse James become such a hated figure? Was it the fact he attempted financial gain from performing the assassination to audiences? Was it that the public got just as sucked into Jesse James media personality as Robert Ford did? If so, it provides an interesting idea to be looked at, is Robert Ford the coward, or are we the cowards? Anyone of those men and women who victimized Ford could have been Ford. It is fair to say that Jesse James got his revenge on Ford from beyond the grave, and the film is just as much as a story of the assassination of Robert Ford by Jesse James, as it is of the assassination of Jesse James by Robert Ford.

Director Andrew Dominik also turns out an impressive display here. His second feature, after his maybe even greater neglected masterpiece, Chopper, is hard to watch and not be reminded of Terrence Malick’s cinema. Seeing James hand brushing the wheat-fields with his hands simultaneously reminds one of Days of Heaven and The New World. The slow, transcendental pace of the film, that is carried forward by the narrator is also reminiscent of Malick at his very best. Some of the biggest criticism of the film has been with its slow pacing, and with its run time of near 160 minutes, it is understandable, but it is worth sticking with. Dominik received a thanks on Malick’s The New World, and it is clear watching this film that a big impression was left on him. There is a great deal of depth to this film, and it reaches out to epic proportions in this respect, and it is hard to grasp it all just in one viewing, but it is worth sticking with it. The music is near always there, providing the mood to the vital scenes, Roger Deakins provides some stunning cinematography work as well, which deservedly earned him an Oscar nomination. It is worth the effort it requires, and is one of the best pieces of cinema that the 2000s produced.

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