Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Jesse James (Brad Pitt) was a mean, bully of a man who found himself slipping into fits of rage late in life. His brother Frank (Sam Shepard) has decided to leave their gang to go back east and get rid of this dishonorable life. On their last score together, they work with the two Ford brothers, Charlie (Sam Rockwell) and Robert (Casey Affleck). James forms an attachment with Robert more so out of curiosity then anything. Robert Ford idolized the James gang growing up and can't wait to join up with them at age 19.

The loose group of hillbillies and thieves put together for their last job soon comes unraveled. Friends start turning out each and causes Jesse to grow paranoid. Especially later when he finds the Ford brothers his only friends left. In should be mentioned that in all of the time during the gang's reign of terror, the good people of Missouri kept them in their bossom. Jesse lived most of his life out in the open knowing that his legend would keep him safe. So the treachery in his own camp makes him spiral into a madness of sorts.

This is writer/director Andrew Dominik's first shot at a big budget film. Dominik manages to make a story of inherently unlikeable characters spellbinding throughout the entire 150 plus minutes. The opening is a bit clumsy and awkward, then so is one of the lead characters in Robert Ford. Affeck plays him with a somewhat homoerotic idolization towards Jesse that confuses and fascinates him. Pitt is fine here in a showy way as the mean spirited man who is used to getting his own way. There is also nice work by Paul Schneider (All the Real Girls) as one of the associates of the Ford brothers. Someday I'll have to write an essay of appreciation for Sam Rockwell - who seems to understand this material more than anyone.

The real brilliance in The Assassination has to belong to the cinematography, editing, and music created for this feature. All of them congeal until the film is left in a dreamlike state that you are never you will wake up from. Obviously this is not a film that will go down easily. It is a meticulously crafted film that perhaps never shows it's true intent until after Robert Ford does the deed.


* An interest note here, Garret Dillahunt plays an associate of Jesse James here. I was remind of his Robert Ford-like role in the tv series Deadwood of which he plays the coward Jack McCall who shoots Wild Bill in the back at the infamous card game.

* Also this is the 3rd time Paul Schneider and Zooey Deschanel (All the Real Girls) have worked together.

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