Friday, 21 December 2007

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Melancholic beauty…

Hollywood has the idea to glamorize and exaggerate virtually every historical figure without acknowledging that the respective person’s true self. This creates a flawed notion of the time period, yet there are times where a biopic is created with truthful richness and this so happens to be one of those times.

As the title explains, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is pretty much that and, of course, the events that led up to the act. Jesse (Brad Pitt) decides that he will attempt one last robbery and call his career quits after that. Yet after the feat paranoia crawls into Jesse as he begins to debate whether members of his last outing might in fact take the large bounty that plagues him. Over time he becomes interested in Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), a nineteen year old who has idolized Jesse since his childhood but discovers that the outlaw hero is not what he appears.

From the very opening scene the film captures you in its Western setting, and the authenticity of the period of the outlaw Jesse James is virtually realistic, albeit a few historical inaccuracies. Though if you aren’t well versed in the history of Jesse James you won’t have much to worry about, as these inaccuracies are relatively minor and doesn’t impact on the overall feel of the characters, and story. The film is slow and almost action-less. For the most part this suitably helps the films haunting veneer. But beyond the realism and atmosphere, the film has an excellent way of never defining a definite hero or villain. Yes, it is obvious how certain characters are to be finally viewed, but Jesse is not the heroic outlaw he is perceived to be. He is mocking and willingly to kill needlessly. As well, Ford is not just the coward he is made out to be. He’s a fragile character who has good intentions but his youthfulness does not allow him to see further then his actions.

Once again Brad Pitt proves a wonder to watch, with his portrayal of Jesse James being one of his best. You can feel the cold, calculated nuances of Pitt’s acting and the love and compassion his character is capable of. His acting his realistic and he is supported wonderfully by the rest of the cast, especially Casey Affleck, who on par with Pitt. Affleck has never struck me as being that great an actor, but his performance was nothing less than amazing. He exudes a creepy nervousness that is just waiting to burst into something more.

There is, as well, an accompanying narrator. Who this person is remains a mystery, but who he is, is never ever the point. The narrator (Hugh Ross) like all narrators, serves as the story’s guide, pointing out information of extreme importance, In fact, while the film is long, it could have been longer were it not for the narrator. He brings about certain bits of information throughout the film which adds depth to various characters, without these particulars having to be shown. One such time explains how Frank James (Sam Shepard) felt after the death of his brother Jesse, but we never see the character post-Jesse’s death. It appears like a quick scheme to get more story development without showing more, but its execution is practically flawless.

The music department is pretty thin: the majority of the film plays without music whatsoever, and when music is used, it’s done so as a transition point from one main story arc to the nest. Best yet, it doesn't feel out of place and only goes to enhance the somber atmosphere of the film itself.

If there is anything stopping this film from reaching greatness, it would be pacing issues. The film is just a little too long for its own good. While its final length cannot be cut by much, as every scene portrayed is of utmost importance, some scenes do linger on a few seconds too long. Much of the additional runtime comes from the director’s attempt at adding abstract, yet serene, images of the environment, and just being too art-like. I say too art-like because these great shots which the viewer are shown, while sometimes dazzling to gaze upon, feel forced and constricted. This is partly in due to the great number of times the director, Andrew Dominik, tries these shots, and also because every time this is performed, the main focus is always in the middle. While this is particularly the function of having an images centerpiece in the middle for emphasis, it just happens far too often and the art-like nature of the film loses its appeal. It ultimately becomes less interesting then it ought to be. Still the director does indeed have some real highpoints, especially the beginning of the day of Jesse James death, where we are greeted with a splash of nervousness and a sense of lost control in regards to Ford. Even towards the end of the film the director experiments a bit more and with great results, adding much depth with symbolism. The little scenes that are up to this quality show the amazing ability the director has, but its shame he falls into a mediocre pattern with his many other scenes.

No sex and no nudity although there is a scene involving one man walking on a woman who is using the bathroom. Language use is kept to a minimum and violence, while infrequent, is violent and realistic.

While Robert Ford’s bullet was effective in hitting its intended target, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, sadly, misses by a few inches. The story is engaging, if a little inaccurate and a little too much to digest in regards to the films length; the acting is of a sublime quality; the music is well placed and fits the films overall mood nicely, and the cinematography is absolutely breathtaking in its simplicity, but becomes overused. If you can survive till the films conclusion, and honestly if you cannot then it is a real shame, you will have watched one of the best films to grace 2007. The name of Jesse James still lives on, but now in a far more grand state.


Screen Date: 20th December 2007
Release Date: 14th December 2007

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