Jesse James (Brad Pitt) is a notorious criminal with almost legendary status. Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) has looked up him since childhood and attempts to join his gang, but over the years grows to resent his idol.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (herein referred to as The Assassination of Jesse James) is a an appropriately long title for a film clocking in at nearly three hours. However, it’s a film that uses almost every minute of that run time wisely to help construct fascinating characters and an absorbing world in which they exist.
See, The Assassination of Jesse James has an almost fairytale-like quality, with Jesse a Robin Hood type figure widely revered despite his criminal activity. This paints him as a clear anti-hero, clearly the most identifiable character in the film. Showing Jesse also as a family man, caring for his children is a lovely touch, allowing for a much deeper character. Conversely, Casey Affleck’s Robert Ford instantly becomes the most dislikeable character in the film, portrayed as a snivelling two-faced sycophant.
Much of the praise for the characterisation has to go to the actors. Both Pitt and Affleck are excellent; Pitt’s laid-back, almost nonchalant performance superbly contrasts with Affleck’s eagerness, whilst others such as Sam Rockwell and Jeremy Renner also turn in good performances, which again adds to the depth of the film.
It’s got to be said that The Assassination of Jesse James is not a film to sling on if you want some light-hearted, mindless entertainment. It’s long and deliberately slow paced, demanding your attention from the first minute to the last. It does occasionally meander a little too much, losing a little focus, but these moments are few and fleeting. As such, it may even warrant a second viewing to truly appreciate everything it offers.
And one of the things that really does deserve to be appreciated is the film’s stunning cinematography. There’s a brooding, ethereal quality to the film which adds to the fairytale-like atmosphere. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is outstanding, with every shot a work of art that deserves to be appreciated.
What’s interesting about the The Assassination of Jesse James is that you already know how it’s going to end; it says so in the title. But the ‘what’ and the ‘who’ aren’t really what’s important here. What’s important is the ‘why’. The film is a journey, more of Robert Ford’s than Jesse James’s, and it’s interesting to see how all of the minutiae add up to form the climax you know is on its way.
It may be long and it may be demanding, but it’s well worth the effort.