The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Brad Pitt as Jesse James in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Ford"

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is somewhere between a history lesson and a thoughtful campfire tale, but without the romanticism this suggests – the outlaws here are real men, flawed, prideful, often inarticulate. This is not to say that the film is dry; its players may mumble their words, but the film has a quiet lyricism. It’s simply gorgeous, portraying autumnal tranquility amid shifting fields of golden grain, or the wailing spectre of a train through the night, or the charcoal sparseness of a dark landscape engulfed by snow.

The actors do an equally good job, with titular leads Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and Bob Ford (Casey Affleck) competently capturing the complex, troublesome, doomed relationship between two men, simultaneously comrades and rivals.

The Assassination of Jesse James is powerful but imperfect. Director Andrew Dominik is primarily interested in pondering those men’s motivations and evoking a twilight, elegiac atmosphere of finality, but the details of the narrative are critical to understanding the men’s bond and are regrettably hard to follow. A slow pace is necessary to the film’s tone, but it is overlong in parts, suggesting the bloat that derailed Dominik’s follow-up, last year’s Killing Them Softly.

Rating: 156/200

3 thoughts on “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

    • It’s definitely a movie that benefits from watching it in chunks! I dunno, I like the film but it definitely drags, particularly towards the end. I think if I were to “fix” it, I’d drastically edit down the post-Jesse James’ death sequence, as it runs for almost half an hour and I don’t think it needs to.

      You lose a little closure on Robert Ford, sure, but I think his arc is basically him deciding to kill Jesse – it’s completely unsurprising that he’d be unsatisfied with his fame and the epilogue just keeps hitting that button over and over again.

      It would be sad to lose to callback to Jesse and Charlie’s conversation about suicide, which takes on new meaning in the conclusion, but really…the whole film is essentially Jesse’s suicide note, him choosing to die the way he wants to die, and crafting that himself. It’s why the slow pacing is fine right up until Jesse’s death, where it’s like a man coming to terms with his own mortality …and is totally unnecessary after his death.

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