Probably one of the most overlooked films of last year, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, is a spectacular and classic western. The story is all in the descriptive title. Jesse James, the infamous and legendary American outlaw of the late 19th century, has been portrayed in over a dozen films since the 1920’s, with actors who’ve played him, ranging from Fred Thomson, to Rob Lowe and Colin Farrell. None is as captivating as Brad Pitt, who plays him as charismatic, dark and calculating, embellishing himself in the role. Meanwhile, Cassey Affleck (the better actor in the family) plays Robert Ford, and gives the breakthrough performance of his career, one that’s earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
The film starts with the “final” robbery of the James-Younger gang, while a young Robert Ford, an avid fan of the James legend, is still eager to join. As the story progresses and the gang begins to vanish, either through deaths or jail, James becomes paranoid from those around him with an abundant bounty on his head. He puts his trust in the two Ford brothers with the 20 year-old Robert destined to betray and kill him.
It is a clash between fame and infamy, with a legendary western story as the backdrop. The cinematography, which garnered another nomination, is tremendous, and many of the scenes lengthy with nothing more than facial expressions to carry them, along with narration. At 160 minutes, the film’s downfall may be in its length, but I found it nevertheless captivating to watch. Halfway through, the film becomes dominated by suspicion and a dramatic build up to the expected assassination. But you’ll nevertheless wait for it.
One of the best films of 2007.