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THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD ***** DVD review by ELLIPSO

Posted on September 24th, 2008
Posted on September 24th, 2008


2007 was such an excellent year for mainstream American art films, that
I’d hate to pick a favorite. “No Country For Old Men,” “There Will Be
Blood,” and this film are three films that I never would have imagined
sharing the same Oscar nominations… but there they were. They all
deserved it. All three of them were easily the best American films of
the year. What amazes me is that they seem to share a common theme…
namely, the demystification of American History. I think most people
will tell you that what we learn about in school is not necessarily what
happened, but it’s not often that you get such an engaging story as an
alternative. “Jesse James” shows you a different view of the Old West,
“There Will Be Blood” shows you a different view of industry, and “No
Country For Old Men” shows you where the other two stories might meet in
the future. If only The Dark Knight had come out in 2007, the Academy
Awards would have been an anarchist’s wet dream.

But I digress.

I want to talk about “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward
Robert Ford.”

Even the name of the movie demands attention… and attention is what
you’re definitely going to need to get the most out of this picture.

The film is driven by narration taken from the novel which it is based
on, and it starts at a point past the time that made Jesse James
famous. In fact, most of the story takes place after the James Gang has
called it quits and Jesse is looking for a somewhat normal life. The
opening narration seemingly describes an everyday normal man going about
his everyday normal life and taking care of his wife and kids. The
narration is so flat and unemotional, you’d think this guy was your
neighbor, but even in these early shots, Brad Pitt shows his genius as
an actor. His body language conveys emotion that the narrator dares
not. His expression is haunted and confused… his mannerisms are
gentle, yet concise. Still, you don’t get the slightest clue from
listening to the words or from seeing him that you are watching a movie
about a man who has been directly or indirectly responsible for the
deaths of almost 200 people (or so the legend goes). That’s where we
are, though. As the title suggests, this isn’t a movie about the life
of Jesse James. This is about something else entirely.

Enter young Bob Ford, played by Casey Affleck. Bob has read every
single scrap of print there ever was to read about the James Gang. He
idolizes Jesse and his brother Frank. Bob’s brother Charlie (played by
Sam Rockwell) is already part of the gang, so he imagines that he can be
involved too. As soon as he shows his face, however, it’s obvious that
he belongs nowhere near any of them. He’s shy and awkward. He’s
probably never fired a gun in his life, but he’s determined to make his
mark in that world.

“You may as well quench your mind of it.” says Frank James.

I don’t want to say too much more about the story, because it’s
something best experienced, but I will say that from that point on,
Casey Affleck gives one of the best acting performances I’ve ever seen.
He found something profoundly real in his character, and at no point was
he afraid to show whatever emotion he thought his character needed.
I’ve never felt so involved in a story as I have this one, and it is
almost 100% due to his delivery. That’s not to take anything away from
Brad Pitt, who also plays his role note perfect, but it’s the scenes
that Pitt and Affleck share that you’ll come away remembering. They are
constantly playing off of each other, and paying attention to each
other, but at all times, the entire production is aware that this is Bob
Ford’s story… including the narration, the supremely beautiful
cinematography by Roger Deakins, and the subtle, understated score by
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis… it all points to Bob Ford and the tragedy
of his mind and his time. And I don’t think any other group of people
could have pulled it off so flawlessly.

I can’t imagine any element of this film being any different from the
way it is now. At 2 hours and 40 minutes, some might see it as slow,
but not me. This is not only my favorite film of 2007, but it’s
probably my favorite film that I’ve seen in the last 10 years. This is art.

5 stars out of 5. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward
Robert Ford is a perfect film in my book.

Trailer below…

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