The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
Arch confederate and violent outlaw Jesse James was and is a gift for dramatists. With numerous appearances in literature, film, theatre and music, American folklore’s Robin Hood seems as unstill in his grave now as he was when he traversed the plains of Missouri.
With the smoke from the last embers of TV’s Deadwood still wafting writer/director Andrew Chopper Dominik revisits the most famous member of the James-Younger gang with revisionist glee in this stunning epic western. Uninterested in the gang’s most iconographic robberies, which have already been beautifully covered by the great Nicholas Ray in The True Story of Jesse James (1957), Walter Hill in The Long Riders (1980) and Philip Kaufman in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972), Dominik portrays the downfall of this self-aggrandising bandit.
Picking up in 1879 in Glendale, Missouri, we find the James’ gang has been depleted by arrests, deaths and defections. Jesse (Brad Pitt) and to a lesser extent his brother Frank (Sam Shepard) are about to begin their final crime spree of train and canal robberies. But loyalty is not what it used to be and soon Jesse grows paranoid of his own men, all apart from eager young recruits Bob (Casey Affleck) and Charley (Sam Rockwell) Ford. Though moody, fractious and awkward at times Jesse builds a particular bond with Bob though it is a decision that is to cost him dearly.
This brutal, slow, sustained and beautifully presented endgame drama is a joy. Put together like it was a lithograph flip book — all soft edges and odd compositions, this comes on as if Harry Crews and Nelson Algren wrote it after a three-day bender in the local Nickelodeon in front of the collected works of Edwin Porter. Following Sam Peckinpah’s mantra Dominik produces ‘images people cannot forget’ and so much more. TAOJJBTCRF is so rich in dialogue, detail and performance (Pitt is fantastic but Affleck is remarkable) that if country rubes, robbery and outlaw martyrdom are your thing this is not to be missed.
General release from Fri 30 Nov.