The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford ★★★★★

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is an honest-to-god cinematic masterpiece. Being the third time I have viewed it, I can attest that it exceeds itself with each viewing. Andrew Dominik creates one of the best character studies of all time, by comparing and contrasting the film's two leads, Jesse James and Robert Ford (Pitt and Affleck, respectively). He competently portrays such a wide array of feelings, often within a single scene. Thanks to an utterly perfect cast, Dominik gracefully captures emotions of alienation, fear, envy and anguish; but most importantly, vulnerability and pity.

Set in the late 1800's, Assassination studies the notorious yet idolized Jesse James (Pitt), in the decline of a long and tiresome career of villainy, legally speaking. As he becomes resentful and paranoid in his retirement, he takes advantage of a young and naive Robert Ford, a 19 year old 'James-wannabe' who fantasized about joining the James gang as a child. While Dominik digs deeper into these characters, he shows us the hidden side of celebrity, as well as the consequences of infamy. As James strives for anonymity and Ford chases fame, we can notice how alike these characters actually are, as well as the ramifications of disloyalty, cowardliness and mistrust.

I cannot stress how extraordinary the cast is here. Firstly, this is one of Brad Pitt's best performances, and that is saying a lot. As Jesse James he is haunting, creating scenes that evoke feelings of gloom, betrayal, confusion and empathy. The unbelievable supporting cast of Sam Rockwell, Sam Sheppard, Jeremy Renner and Paul Schneider are collectively brilliant, overshadowed but not under utilized. Dominick brings these characters together to muster extremely tense and unstable scenes that will leave a pit in your stomach. However to me, Casey Affleck is the star of this feature. As the pathetic yet ambitious Bob Ford, he generates catharsis on a generally unparalleled level. Ford begins a downcast, a runt of the litter, and develops throughout the film as he becomes tainted with jealousy and resentment. Affleck provides one of the best performances of the millenium, and consequently earns his place among my favorite actors.

The cinematography and score are also worth noting, as they are incredibly efficient in creating and changing the tone of the film. Setting the mood, the daunting and foggy scenes laced with songs by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis not only set the pace, but tell a lucid story--perfect execution.

The Assassination of Jesse James is a wonderfully haunting story and a work of art; a character study that embodies themes and lessons that everyone can benefit from. A must see--and unlike Jesse James, this film originally released in 2007 only gets better with age.