'The Assassination of Jesse James ...'
(Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Mary-Louise Parker, et al / DVD / R / (2007) 2008 / Warner Bros.)
Overview: Everyone in 1880s America knows Jesse James. He's the nation's most notorious criminal, hunted by the law in 10 states. He's also the land's greatest hero, lauded as a Robin Hood by the public. Robert Ford? No one knows him. Not yet. But the ambitious 19-year-old aims to change that. He'll befriend Jesse, ride with his gang. And if that doesn't bring Ford fame, he'll find a deadlier way. Friendship becomes rivalry and the quest for fame becomes obsession.
DVD Verdict: THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD is one of the finer films about the history of the Old West 'heroes' such as Jesse James. It is difficult to describe the degree of high quality of the way in which this film has been created: the script (adapted by Andrew Dominick from Ron Hansen's novel) is as poetic as it is gritty and flows like a Shakespearean tragedy both in narration and in dialog; the exceptionally fine cinematography by Roger Deakins captures the flavor of the times, shot in subtle lighting whether in darkly intimate interiors or on the vast plains at times heightened by snowlight, but always in the feeling of the quality of daguerreotypes; the musical score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is strangely apropos without seeming to borrow from any previous source; and the cast of fine actors play the film as a true ensemble work. Director Andrew Dominik has accomplished a masterpiece.
The story begins subtly in the last year of the James gang at the final train robbery in 1881. Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and his brother Frank (Sam Shepard) have gathered remnant criminals to bolster their decimated gang - Dick Liddel (Paul Schneider), Ed Miller (Garret Dillahunt), and Wood Hite (Jeremy Renner) among them. The Ford brothers want to ride with Jesse: 19-year old Robert (Casey Affleck) idolizes Jesse and his older brother Charley (Sam Rockwell) enjoys the attention of the gang's fame. Jesse James, at only age 34, is at the end of his career, content to be at home with his wife Zee (Mary Louise Parker) and children. But Robert's adoration results in a chain of events that slowly dissembles the gang and results in Robert's obsessive revenge for Jesse's murder of one of the members fired by the promise of reward for the capture of Jesse James, dead or alive.
History and the title of the film tell the plot so there are no surprises here. It is the inevitable unfolding of the drama and the tension of the interplay of the actors that drives the mood of the story. The film does not stop with the killing of Jesse James but instead follows the descent of the lives of Robert (now wealthy and in love a stripper - Zooey Deschanel) and the progressing insanity of Charley to an end that fades like the proverbial sunset on a time in our history we will never forget.
Each of the actors is exceptional, and despite the glory of having big name stars associated with the cast, the effect is one of pure ensemble work. The 160 minute running time of the film never seems too long, so well timed is the pacing of the story and the pauses for understanding the interior aspects of each character's mind. This is a haunting film, unusually fine in every detail. It deserves, and demands, attention. This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.35:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.