By: Movie Snurb (A Toast) –
The film is a true account of the murder of the Missourian outlaw Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (if you couldn’t tell by the title.) It dramatizes Jesse’s last months of his life and how Robert Ford went from idolizing the legendary outlaw to finding his own path to “fame” only to be forgotten forever. The film is extremely historically accurate, but when it comes to many personal accounts of Jesse’s life it’s dramatized, because like all of us, even people like me who learn all about Jesse James in school, he was always a larger than life. James was closer to Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, or Captain Stormalong rather than Al Capone or Daniel Boone. Jesse James will always be remembered for many things, some true and some false; however, no one will remember Robert Ford.
This film is one of the most beautiful films of the 21st century. From the set design, to costume design, to the cinematography and the music. Every frame looks like a painting; the set design, costume design, and music place you right in the 1800’s. Roger Deakins should’ve won his first Oscar for this film. It’s absolutely breathtaking and you need to look no further than the train robbery scene to see why he should’ve won. Another great aspect of the cinematography is the use of the lens to make the flashbacks and storytelling scenes of Jesse’s look like it was shot with an old camera. Not only does this help place the audience in the time period, but it gives the outer edges of the screen a blurriness. To me this shows the inaccuracies with Jesse James’ history. Most people don’t know what is true and fiction with Jesse, and this camera trick reflected that in the best way.
The film has been praised for its historical accuracy, with the outfits using bowler hats and top hats instead of cowboy hats like a lot of Westerns. With its attention to detail, it helps place the audience directly in the time period and sucks them into the movie. The music sounds like something you’d hear in a museum dedicated to the late 1800’s. It’s beautiful piano and strings are composed by the underrated Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. They’re the perfect duo for any Western or Neo-Western film.
However, this film isn’t really a Western at all, it’s really more of a character study. Not only of Robert Ford or Jesse James, but what it’s like when fiction meets reality, much like when we meet famous people that we idolize. When fictions and stories meet fact, sometimes it’s hard to stomach that expectation does not meet reality. Robert has to accept that Jesse wasn’t this modern-day Robin Hood. He was a robber and murderer and still didn’t give Robert the respect he thought he deserved. Jesse ended up being just like his brothers, thinking very little of Robert. It’s fascinating to watch a film play this out and it’s so compelling and rewarding to watch.
This film is very relevant today because now in the world of social media most people’s Instagram life doesn’t totally reflect who we really are. No one posts how they’re going through difficult times money-wise. Or how most days their life are like everyone else’s. The only difference between this film and today is that people aren’t confronting someone they idolize. They have to come to their own realization of who they really are. The person on social media is not who they are in real life.
The acting is masterful all throughout the cast. The supporting cast, led by Sam Rockwell and Jeremy Renner before he blew up, is astounding. The late Sam Shepard is great as usual playing Frank James. Even James Carville is brilliant as Governor Crittenden. However, the two main stars really fuel this film and keep it on the high wire till the end of the film. Casey Affleck as always gives an underrated performance as Robert Ford, using a lot of inward acting dealing with Roberts’s internal struggle throughout the film. Brad Pitt is brilliant as Jesse James, giving a great and not overdone Missouri accent and giving an honest portrayal of a man who always seemed to be more myth than legend.
This is one of the most overlooked films of the 21st century. The film is a long and slow journey, but it’s a great payoff to anyone willing to give up almost 3 hours to watch it. It’s a gorgeous film and should be considered essential viewing for any cinephile.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: for every beautiful shot in this film.
Take a Drink: for every blurry-edged scene in the film.
Do a Shot: for every person that gets shot.
Pound a Beer: if you ever met someone famous and they were less than what you expected them to be.