The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford Reviews

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Super Reviewer
October 7, 2007
Meticulously made, with some beautiful images, but far too long and far too languidly paced.
Super Reviewer
½ November 14, 2007
It's long, it's slow, and I loved it. The cinematography practically speaks for itself, telling a story that we all know from the villain's perspective and bringing the psychology of the event and the characters to life.
Super Reviewer
½ September 19, 2007
This is quite a fascinating take on such a revered legend and the final months of his life. Less of a violent shoot 'em up, and more of a somber, introspective portrait, this film is a fascinating study of friendship, betrayal, hero worship, and surprising reactions to a perceived act of greatness. There are some undeniable undertones of homosexuality throughout the film, but rather than be expressed through physical love, they are expressed through tortured, creepy obsessions that can't come to any conclusion but a dark and tragic one.

Before I provide further praise, a few criticisms. I'm okay with long films with rather slow pacing, but I felt the middle should have been tightened up more, and have the final half hour drawn out more. As for the final scene, I'd rather have seen it than heard narration. The rest of the narration was hit or miss for me. I liked the music, but I wish it were more varied. More screen time for Zooey Deschanel would also have been nice, as would have been a few more (no more than 3) small scenes of violence, or one big set piece of it.

As much as I enjoyed the direction (despite the above issues), the cinematography by Roger Deakins is the real star of the show here. Some of the shots and compositions on display are so beautiful I can't really do them justice. The cast is great, even if some of the actors have little screen time. Despite screen time amounts, all performers are excellent, especially Pitt and Affleck. Renner and Rockwell are closely tied behind them for the best acting. About Pitt and Affleck: it's a toss-up for who's more impressive. Pitt, on one hand has to portray someone younger than his actual age, pull it off, and also downplay his ego and status as an A-lister. It works to his favor. Affleck on the other hand, much like the character, has to step out of the role of "the young one" and come into his own. Ford is a tough role because it would be so easy to over do it. His Oscar nomination is proof he succeeded.

This was my first exposure to director Andrew Dominik, and he has impressed me. At first it seemed like this was a Terrence Malick film, and I mean that as a compliment, but also as a way of saying what you should expect should you decide to see this (and you should).

This is a great film, but definitely not for all audiences. It's a scholar's dream too, as there is plenty of stuff to pore over, analyze, and discuss. If you've come this far in my review, then you'll probably know if this is one for you.
Super Reviewer
½ August 30, 2012
In 2000, director Andrew Dominik exploded onto the scene with low-budget but powerful biographical film "Chopper" about Australian criminal Mark Brandon Read. It not only heralded the arrival of actor Eric Bana but also a new an uncompromising director. For his second feature he tackled another biographical feature about one of the wild west's most notorious gunslingers and this time, Dominik took his uncompromising nature even further.
Retelling of the last months in the life of the legendary outlaw Jesse James and how his reputation was faltering. His gang had disbanded - either dead or in prison and Jesse was beginning to suffer increasing paranoia. After carrying out a train robbery he heads for Kentucky, only to reappear in Missouri for a bank robbery. Two brothers; Charley (Sam Rockwell) and Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) are part of his new gang but Robert has a dangerous and obsessive idolisation of Jesse and one that would finally be the outlaws undoing.
Few film's ever get away with having a title as long as this one and even fewer get away with the manner in which this film is made. That's testament to the skill of Andrew Dominik and the backing of Brad Pitt who refused to yield to Hollywood studios when they wanted to tinker with Dominik's vision. Right from the opening, brutal, train robbery, this film's style is apparent. It's sense of realism is what commands your attention; it goes on to depict stark expansive landscapes, explosive bullet wounds and guns that don't shoot straight but the actual gunslinging is kept to a minimum, while it focuses on the characters themselves. The pace of the film is deliberate, adding to the ethereal feel throughout and one that reminded me of the approach that director Terrence Malick would use. Roger Deakins' cinematography is also a thing of absolute beauty. The entirety of every single frame of this picture is stunningly captured with meticulous attention to detail and Dominik's direction is near flawless. He lingers long on shots and subtle facial expressions and captures the uneasiness in the characters and their situations. By using this methodical style, he manages to get under the skin of his two leading characters and allows both Pitt and especially Affleck the room to deliver sensational performances. Pitt is entirely commanding and charismatic, adding just enough of a glimmer of danger without losing the audience's sympathy and Affleck is on top, creepy and unsettling, form. The chemistry between the two hints at all sorts of possibilities - including homoerotic tension. These two share an uneasy relationship and between them, there are contemporary issues at play; the nature of celebrity and hero worship and the difference between 'the man and the myth'. Even over 100 years ago they had this but although Dominik delivers this insight, he never fully explores it, leaving it all just a bit too ambiguous. I'm not looking for a film to spell everything out for me. On the contrary but for a film that languishes on detail and mood, it could have taken a little time to further explore these themes and the characters' motivations. There's a sense of bewilderment as to why James would even tolerate having Ford around when he, seemingly, knew that something wasn't quite right about him. He was aware that sooner or later he would meet his impending fate but it's unclear why he'd open himself up to it. Another area that lacks any attention, is the females in these men's lives. They are fleetingly visited but are ultimately insignificant and the likes of Mary-Louise Parker and Zooey Deschannel are reduced to mere cameos. I can only assume that these issues could maybe make more sense in Dominik's original 4 hour cut - that played at the Venice film festival before a widespread release reduced the film to it's 2hour 40mins duration. That being said, this is still an aesthetically successful endeavour that, although not fully deserving of the masterpiece status that many consider it to be, it's not far off it.
A contemplative and demanding film that requires the utmost patience. It's highly ambitious, artistic and regularly poetic. Quite simply, it's beautifully done and I found lots to admire but it meanders and like the title itself, it's just a tad too long winded.
paul o.
Super Reviewer
½ August 8, 2012
An american classic unnoticed. Its Brad Pitt as a poetic gun slinger and it works out. The story's direction emulates that of Terrance Malick and Julian Schnabel. The A-listers are there from left to right and everyone gives their best in this Western triumph.
Super Reviewer
½ September 29, 2007
The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is a bit of a mouthful, but it's titled perfectly. The script is extremely literary and the title is deeply ironic and highlights the fact that real life bears little resemblance to the simplistic interpretation of events that "legends" present. In fact it was Ford's disillusionment in his dealings with the man compared to his childhood hero worship that probably contributed greatly to the resulting killing; that and his own wish to be revered as a "hero" himself. The cinematography is simply beautiful, the film resembling a period photograph come to life. The train robbery scene is one of the most visually stunning pieces of cinema I've ever seen. The performances are also top notch, particularly Brad Pitt whose intense and intimidating interpretation of James once again proves that given quality material he can more than deliver the goods. True, it's rather slow moving and talky, but as such it's a completely different take on one of the most oft filmed stories in cinema, as well as one of the best.
Super Reviewer
½ April 5, 2012
The build up in this movie is necessary, but disappointing. There is a lot of fluff in the beginning of this film, but when it hits its stride it becomes great. The climax of this movie is unforgettable and Casey Affleck's performance is terrific. These two aspects elevate this movie to another level.
Nathan H.
Super Reviewer
January 6, 2012
Who was truly notorious, Jesse James or Robert Ford? A visceral experience that has a completely different feel than any other Western. Brad Pitt excells as Jesse James, but Casey Affleck is whom really shines. The whole film is art, and a thinking movie-goer will enjoy.
Super Reviewer
April 3, 2008
A handsomly constructed though very flawed slow-paced Western concerning the adventures of Jesse James, as well as his awkward relationship with Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), a consistently tormented young man who idolized James as a child. This movie is quite frustrating, due to its running time (there is no good reason to have this thing clock in at nearly three hours. None), and its rather incoherence plot-wise throughout. However, it is very realistically acted, particularly Pitt and Affleck, who are both tremendous, and the last half hour of the movie are irrefutably powerful. While director Andrew Dominik certainly gets self-indulgent, he correctly romanticizes Robert Ford to the point where you truly feel sorry for him, an incredibly difficult task when one attaches the word "coward" next to his name. A pretty good film, but one badly in need of an editor to trim the fat and unnecessary conversations.
Super Reviewer
November 4, 2007
this was a good flick to watch, but it had some problems. positively, brad pitts performance was top notch and the film was interesting. it had more of a documentary feel than a movie feel but it didnt detract too much. negitively this story was told very unclearly. much was barely eluded to with little or no explination, even things that seemed important. in nearly three hours you would think that they could have given a fuller picture of some things. in the end i would recommend this film, especially to anyone interested in jesse james, it wasnt as great as it could have been but it was very good. the cinematography may be the best of the year.
Clintus M.
Super Reviewer
½ November 11, 2011
Beautifully shot in western Canada, The Assassination of Jesse James is a portrait of mental anguish, obsession, and mistrust. Ultimately who won or lost and who got what they wanted or deserved could be debated, but that these questions are even asked demonstrates the genius of this story. As many have stated, this is not really a western but a psychoanalytical character study.

The direction, cinematography, and cast are all excellent. Casey Affleck plays Robert Ford, yearning, coveting, and in his own words, "destined for great things." Brad Pitt plays James, and he's terribly underrated as an actor. He's suspicious, manipulative, and above-all, larger than life. The rest of the cast, Jeremy Renner, Mary-Louise Parker, and others are similarly impressive. I loved the narration carrying the story, often intrusive in other films. The palpable paranoia and bleak cinematography set this film apart from others; it really is an achievement. Jesse James is intense though slow moving. Its not for the short attention span crowd.
Super Reviewer
August 20, 2011
Don't be fooled by the title and the presence of Jesse James because "The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford" is not really about him. The backdrop, or macro-narrative, may be about Jesse James and his legacy, but the true heart of this film, it's provocative micro-narrative, is that of homosexuality in the 1880s. I think it's abundantly clear that Robert Ford's hero-worshiping of James is much more. Ford's lust for James drags him into the darkest places because, back then, sex between them was never, ever an option. Jesse James was certainly not gay, don't get me wrong; but Ford absolutely is (at least in this fictional portrayal). This is obviously much to large of a topic to get into here, but I assure you, this film is clearly about repressed homosexuality. On the surface, the film is beautiful to look at with breathtaking cinematography, steady direction and some incredible performances. Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck understand the delicate and hypnotic dance James and Ford are acting out. What they can convey to each other with just a look is, at times, staggering. This is a epic story of power, fame, unrequited love and ultimately death. "The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford" is a western on the surface, but much like Robert Altman's "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," it's merely the shell for a much larger, much more complex story.
Super Reviewer
September 22, 2007
This calm, almost hypnotic Western ballad isn't exactly bursting with gunfights, horse chases or other things you may expect from the genre. The cast is well picked, delivering outstanding performances all around. There is an atmosphere of constant threat and subtle hostility between the characters, you always expect anyone to burst into drawing his gun any minute. Especially Pitt creates an extremely charismatic Jesse James, but Casey Affleck brings coward Robert Ford to live really convincingly too. The narrator and slow story-telling make this a movie you have to dig your nails into, but it's so rewarding, even touching in the end. The cinematography delivers some of the most beautiful images ever put on film. An odd, strangely mesmerizing film that requires some work, but belongs to the gems of the genre.
Super Reviewer
December 20, 2010
The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is one of the best Western films since Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. Directed by Andrew Dominik, director of Chopper, The Assassination Of Jesse James is is an emotional portrait of one of America's most famous outlaws. The film is not tense or loud like the Spaghetti Westerns of old, instead Dominik tells a melancholic style story with mysterious overtones. Mysterious because the murder of Jesse James has always been shrouded in mystery, intrigue and debate. Brad Pitt plays Jesse James with vigor and intensity and it's one of his best roles since Tyler Durden in Fight Club. The film is fairly slow as the film examines more the man behind the legend during the last few years of his life before his murder at the hands of James Gang member, Robert Ford. The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is a fine film that achieves a sense of the classic Spaghetti Western epics of old, but departs from the classic films to create something unique and interesting in the process. The film film is a well made Western, and in my opinion its much better that 3:10 To Yuma. The film is based on fact and provides the viewer with an interesting look at James. Andrew Dominik has made a worthy Western that probably even Sergio Leone would approve of. Dominik's direction is flawless and Pitt's portrayal of Jesse James is equally flawless. However the length of the film is too long, and it could have been shortened quite a bit, however it's a must see for Wester Aficionado.
Super Reviewer
½ September 23, 2010
I really only watched to see Zooey, but it turned out to be an okay movie. Can't believe I had to get through the whole movie before I could she her though. Geez...
Super Reviewer
August 25, 2010
This had the unfortunate timing of coming out in the same year as both No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, relegating it to "lesser arthouse" in the public conscious. And in a way, I do agree with that tag - but only partially. Really, most of The Assassination of Jesse James is lovely. The music, deep and droning, works in hypnotic tandem with Robert Elswit's light-suffused cinematography. He seems to find beauty in every landscape, forest and backyard he shoots in. Andrew Dominik, as you've probably read, is most influenced by Malick here, in his visual prioritization of nature over his human subjects. Where he could have stood to take a page out of his book is infusing his work with a little more subtlety. The movie has a provocative, unique central thesis to work with - the creation of celebrity in the Western era and how it influenced our current perception of celebrity now - but toward the end, as if it has lost confidence, it starts hitting its points harder and harder and with not much grace. I don't necessarily have a problem with the length or pacing, as most seem to, but the movie definitely loses a great deal of push after its titular act and railroads toward a thematically predictable conclusion.

I wasn't huge on the lead performances - Casey Affleck seems more content to go with semi-stupid than naive, as a basic reading of the character might have suggested (one character in the movie goes so far as to call him smart, which: hell naw). Brad Pitt is mostly cardboard and generally not the first person I'd notice in any given scene. It's an interesting treatment of the character, as a shadow lurking in the corners of the room, quietly observing and only peeking out to interact sometimes, but Pitt to me isn't an actor who's particularly great at introspection so much as loud, boisterous voice work and physicality. His two best turns, in Burn after Reading and Inglourious Basterds, are consequently two of his most colorful. Their support is uniformly great - Sam Rockwell more or less steals the show.

At the end of the day, this didn't at all deserve its failure. It's wonderful work, endearing and rich though not completely perfect. I wish Dominik was a more prolific director, because I think he exhibits some great versatility as a filmmaker and it would be exciting to see him work more often. You can't rush art, I guess.
Super Reviewer
½ August 1, 2010
"I'm saying his sins will soon find him out. I'm saying his cup of iniquity is full. I'm saying Jesse James is a desperate case and may require a desperate remedy."

The Assassination of Jesse James is about as far from your usual shoot 'em up, bang bang, western yarn, as you can get. It's actually a character study. A particularly measured and slowly paced character study. But it works on the strength of it's great cast and solid writing.

Casey Affleck is wonderful as the unsettling, perpetually nervous, shifty man whose unnerving obsession with Jesse James is uncomfortably obvious. And Brad Pitt continues to impress, as he presents James as a charismatic, dangerous, and paranoid man (though his accent was a little iffy, at times). The supporting cast of talented actors like Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, Garret Dillahunt, Mary-Louise Parker, and Zooey Deschanel, are all favorites of mine, and all perfectly suited for their roles.

Some people may find the pace to be a little TOO glacial, but it would be a crime for a movie with cinematography this beautiful to be rushed. Some of the backdrops and settings are almost breathtaking, with snow-covered roads and fields of grain featuring colors that seem almost too vivid to be natural. I'm a big fan of striking scenery in my movies, and this one certainly gets my seal of approval in that regard.

The Assassination of Jesse James is not a short movie, and it's value is in the interactions of the characters, not in the robberies (which we see only one of) and romanticized-western action that we would normally associate with the near-legendary story of the James Gang. I found it to be worthwhile. It raises questions about what makes a man a hero or a villian in the public's eyes, and by the end of the film, we find out that those questions have interesting answers.
Super Reviewer
July 28, 2010
a really great western. brad pitt was great. it slighty drags in some parts but otherwise really great. B+
Super Reviewer
½ May 25, 2010
I feel like this movie is near perfect aside from the terrible and unnecessary narration that makes it feel like a history channel special. Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck are perfect together and really give equally perfect performances. The storyline works so well and is surprisingly suspenseful all the way through. The cinematography is completely flawless and brings such a great atmospheric and personality to a character driven story.
Super Reviewer
½ January 27, 2009
This is brilliant with a capitol K.C... get it, Casey?
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