The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Jesse James (BRAD PITT) was one of the country’s first bona fide celebrities.
There have been countless books written and tales told about America’s most famous outlaw–all of them colorful and fascinating, all focused on his larger-than-life public persona and daring exploits, and most of them bearing only incidental reference to the truth.
To those he robbed and terrorized, and to the families of those he admittedly killed, he may have been just a criminal, but in the sensational newspaper articles and dime novels chronicling the James Gang throughout the 1870s, Jesse was the object of awe and admiration. He was a Robin Hood, they suggested, targeting railroad owners and banks that exploited poor farmers. He was a man with a tragic cause, a wronged and wounded Confederate soldier striking back against the Union that had ruined his life. Most importantly, to an increasingly buttoned-down and citified population leading ordinary lives, he was the last frontiersman — a symbol of freedom and the American spirit, a charismatic rebel who flouted the law and lived by his own rules…by all accounts, a legend.
Foremost among his admirers was Robert Ford (CASEY AFFLECK), an idealistic and ambitious young man who had devoted his life to the hope of one day riding alongside his idol. He could never have imagined that history would ultimately mark him as the “the dirty little coward” who shot Jesse in the back.
Brad Pitt surprised me with his performance. He not only played the laughing, gregarious Jesse James very well, but he turned his blue eyes into a steely, cold glare when his dark side took over and he was quite believeable in the role. He gives a nuanced performance. In fact, the acting was solid all the way around. Casey Affleck played Robert Ford in an effective, eerie way. As Jesse himself put it, “There’s something not quite right about that boy.”
The film is well directed and the score is one of the better ones I have recently heard. As the tension builds it is echoed in the music which seems to always hit the right note alongside the drama taking place on screen. In fact, there are several scenes in which tension grows as the dialog and inferences are made amongst Jesse and his gang. He doesn’t stand for being double crossed or, for that matter, anyone even considering it. The film did miss the mark a bit as Pitt was given no opportunities to show why Jesse James was compared to Robin Hood. In this movie, he robs and visits his home, and simply plans his next robbery. Jesse also kills some people along the way. The James gang conducted over twenty five robberies between 1867-1881.
The cinematography was another interesting feature of the film, as it showed riders in softly falling snow and other scenes with characters enjoying golden fields in the summer time. A light glaze around the periphal of the picture at times gave certain scenes the “old homestead” look and reminded the viewer he/she was watching scenes from the old west. Unfortunately, despite the interesting story and effective acting, the film is graphically violent in a few spots and the strong language also crosses our line of acceptability for a family-friendly film. We are unable to award our Dove Seal to the picture.