Friday, 26 October 2012

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

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford's title itself is a good representation of the film. It's long and it's wordy but its apparent clarity is not all that it seems. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford does not necessarily do what it says on the tin. Yes, Jesse James is killed, and yes it's Robert Ford who does it, but who is the real coward, or if there's only one coward, isn't so clear cut.

Jesse James tells the story of Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) and some of his friends and family as they meet and work with the infamous Jesse James (Brad Pitt), who had been a childhood hero of Ford's. As James enters the end game of his criminal enterprises he becomes increasingly paranoid, sometimes justifiably and sometimes less so, that his former gang members are out to turn him in dead or alive for the hefty bounty that has been placed on his head.

Jesse himself is a character that Pitt was born to play. He is charismatic and conveys a sense of insight and authority among those around him, but it's offset by a psychotic and dangerous sense of spite and mistrust. Pitt, alongside Affleck, does a phenomenal job of confusing viewers about who the real hero of the story is. His charm and presence, not to mention the derision of his dispatcher in the title, make James pretty likeable despite his nefarious deeds. But as the plot progresses the cruel streak in him, presumably the same one that lead him down his path, becomes apparent and the outlaw becomes truly scary. He becomes one of those people that you just can't get a read on: is he joking or is he serious? It can be a very important decision to make, especially when he's roaring out the same unhinged and over the top laugh that Pitt's Tyler Durden of Fight Club let's out after having his face caved in by a bar owner.

Dancing opposite Pitt's James in the waltz around who's going to pull the trigger first is Casey Affleck's production of Robert Ford. Affleck is as effective in giving us the wide eyed wonder of a kid who finally meets his hero and jumps to carry his gear as he in being the pensive and weary man not sure how to move forward with his life. Ford is scared and uneasy in 90% of the film, and Affleck sells it. Some of the motivations of his character, particularly around the middle of the film, are a bit murky as to why he has his change of heart so suddenly, but it's carried off in a way that's believable through the character even if not necessarily through the plot. The pair bounce off each other with great aplomb, they both knew exactly how each character would play out their side of any conversation and did it wonderfully. There was some sort of connection betweent he two where they just got it.

The film is definitely a slog though. Checking in at 2h40m, I think it's a lot like a long workout: it's going to take a while, you might lose interest during some of the lulls and it's probably a little tiring, but its worth seeing through to the end. The rapid decline of Jesse and the numerous evolutions of Ford (especially those after he does the deed) require a long running time. Despite its setting and title character, this isn't 90 minutes of bank jobs and horse chases with gunslingers. This is much more about Jesse James and Robert Ford the men, than Jesse James the outlaw.

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