“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is a 2007 American Western film that played in the Bonnie this past weekend.
Directed by Andrew Dominik, this film starred Brad Pitt as the infamous Jesse James, outlaw of the West, and Casey Affleck as the cowardly Robert Ford.
This film, adapted from the 1983 novel of the same name by Ron Hansen, chronicles the historical and emotional events of James’ life as well as his relationship with Ford, right up to James’ death and Ford’s life afterward.
The cinematography implemented in this film was certainly unlike any classic American Western I’ve ever seen. This film utilized multiple time-lapse Steadicam shots, blurred and color-altered vignetting and intimate close-up shots of the actors to intensify their emotions onscreen. I truly enjoyed the way this was shot more than any other aspect of the film.
The music usage in this film was minimal at best, with a recurring theme that played throughout the entire feature. Australian musicians Nick Cave, of the band Nick Cave & the Black Seeds, and Warren Ellis composed the music for this film. Nick Cave also had a small role within the film, playing a “strolling balladeer” singing “The Ballad of Jesse James” toward the end of the film.
As for the acting, the leads truly made this film into the critically acclaimed cinematic piece that it was. Pitt was phenomenal per the usual in the main role, often silently terrifying and intimidating, and at other times perfectly charming. Affleck was genuinely unsettling in his role and conveyed his intense obsession with James and his desire for recognition and fame.
However, the plot is where this film fell through for me. I felt that it only kept my attention in the very beginning during the train robbery, and the very end during the climactic death of Jesse James.
This is not your traditional Western with horseback chases and constant saloon stick-ups; this is a conversation-driven story that is told through not only what people say, but also what they show through their nonverbal cues. While I could enjoy the film on its other merits, I found it difficult to stay awake through the 8 p.m. showing.
This could be a result of the very slow pacing that Dominik insisted upon in the film, as there were many gratuitous shots that could have easily been cut to result in a shorter running time, as the whole film clocks in around 159 minutes.
Overall, while this film had many wonderful and interesting aspects, I just could not get through the pacing of the film and this kept me from fully enjoying what was an introspective take on the classic American Western and the themes of obsession with fame and infamy, heroes and legends.