Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Lowdown: A person and a myth face off.
By all accounts, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a strange film. Check out the film's title, for a start: It's so atypically lengthy! Continue with the name telling you what is going to happen in the film but then the film itself taking most of its two and a half hours to get there while taking its time establishing where it's heading in the first place. And what's with starting the movie without telling you what the name of the movie you're watching is until it's very end? It's rare to see a film so in love with fatalism.
The film's lead is Brad Pitt playing Jesse James, a train robber from the late 19th century USA who has a myth associated with him. This myth allows him to to avoid the law at will, mingle with the unsuspecting general population at will, and attracting much in the way of fandom. Despite being obviously psychotic and quite evil, JJ is loved by the general population that treats him like a Robin Hood. On the other side of the film we have Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), a young wanna be guy who is impressed by JJ's myth and does his best to come close to the person. When he does, by joining the Jessie James gang and taking part in its notorious escapades, he gets exposed to the real person. Can he become a man and overthrow the myth?
In between the two leads we have a large collection of fellow gang criminals. At first they take part in the robberies, then they see things from the other side as James hunts them down in bouts of psycho killer sessions while choosing some as partners for seemingly no particular reason. It's all quite weird, and while you can understand Robert Ford you can't really understand Jessie James, which detracts from the film's appeal; I guess psychos always make for intriguing subjects, but their lack of predictability means it's just that far you can get with them in a film.
Eventually - this is a rather slow film - Ford finds that people don't like their myths to be destroyed no matter how unfounded they are. It can be argued that The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is therefore a film about religion, but its main point is not the message itself but the way it's being delivered through the meticulous studying of characters and the interactions between them.
Now, I have stated already that The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is weird, and there's more to its weirdness than its name. There's the acting, for example: I think Brad Pitt is a good actor, but by now I can't stand him doing his typecast psycho role; Casey Affleck is even more annoying, and Sam Rockwell (playing Ford's brother) is an actor that always gets on my nerves.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is quite a hard to follow film. In an effort to convey that authentic 19th century wild west feeling, dialog is in that famous authentic lingo we're all familiar with (not). Even with the subtitles on I've had trouble figuring out what's going on. Add the large number of characters, all with similar names (half of them seem to be called Ed) and often with similar looks, and you get the feeling the director is trying to trick us on purpose.
Best scene: Ford reenacts the killing of Jessie James on stage to an interesting crowd reaction.
Picture quality
: Although there is some inconsistency with colors, this DVD does great homage to Roger Deakins' cinematography.
Sound quality: The emphasis on realism means this is a rather dull sounding film overall.
Overall: You got it - this one is a weird one to call. It has quality cinema features in the way it conveys its story and its messages, but it's also weird and annoying. 3 out of 5 stars.


Uri said...

I see you got a kick out of saying "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" every time (instead of - say - TAoJJbtCRF).

Did you at least type it each time? I bet you just did Ctrl+V.

Moshe Reuveni said...

You're absolutely right. Given the length of the abbreviation and my inclination to emphasize the weirdness of the name (which is mirrored in the film), I went down the ctrl+v path. And I made sure I did it plenty of times.