Review: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Robert Ford had always idolized the legendary Jesse James. He even made it his life’s ambition to meet him face to face and ride off on daring adventures alongside the James Gang. When he finds his dreams coming true, he sees his hero fall victim to paranoia and fear as those involved in the robberies begin to find themselves being caught by the police. Robert soon finds that he may fall victim to Jesse James and decides that he must do what he feels will make him great. He must take justice into his own confused hands and stop his hero, Jesse James. Or was it simply his attempt to create the legendary Robert Ford?


A young man admiringly watches another he idolizes. He begins to speak to him only to have a gun pulled on him. He searches for words about greatness and how
if he could only be given the chance to carry on all the good he carries inside. In a moment of humility, he is dismissed by the man who seems to see nothing of value in him. Such is a scene between Casey Affleck and Sam Shepard, as Robert Ford and the legendary Frank James. It is a subtle, yet extraordinary moment in the brilliantly alive THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD. When Robert attempts to explain what he can offer to the James Gang, you can see his spirit in his expressive eyes as though he prepared that speech if ever he got the chance to meet face to face with Frank James. But it isn’t Frank that he truly admires, it is Jesse. Ford admired Jesse more than anyone could, with his collection of stories about him and the old west. Not only does he find himself sitting alongside his hero, he soon becomes his trusted sidekick who Jesse allows into his home with his wife and kids.

Now, the title says it all. This is about the assassination of Jesse James but it is much more than that. It is a tremendously beautiful journey into a time when outlaws were heroes that stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Whether it was true or not, Jesse was a legend whom every child would dream of being. And today, he is still by popular belief thought of as heroic, unlike his assassin, the man who was entrusted into his life yet grew increasingly dissatisfied with the man he worshipped. Robert Ford would never see the fame he so desperately wanted. He was only to have a taste of it while following in the footsteps of his hero.

Much can be said about Brad Pitt and his personal life. But I don’t care one iota about that because he truly is a major talent who brings charisma and strength to his portrayal of a legend. He gives one of his finest performances here as a man who struggles with paranoia as those whom he trusts begin to find themselves at the mercy of the law. He can be charming one moment and the next, vicious and cruel. All the while showing warmth and love to the children that have no idea that their father is a killer and a thief. Or even what dad’s name and occupation truly is.

As the coward Robert Ford, Casey Affleck is a revelation. Nothing you have seen from him will prepare you for his brilliant work as the childlike young man, who goes on to be the downfall of his hero. It’s hard to describe the wealth of talent that appears on screen. Casey gives a beautifully vulnerable show as he first introduces himself to the James Gang to where he finds himself, and his need for his own fame, tearing his trust and admiration of Jesse apart. You see him grow weary of his position within the outlaw gang and his mistrust and ultimate anger course through him.

Several other performances shine including Mary-Louise Parker as the loving wife of Jesse. Jeremy Renner as Wood Hite, cousin to Jesse James, along with Sam Rockwell, Robert Ford’s brother, and Paul Schneider, all part of the James Gang are all terrific. This is a top-notch cast, even down to a few minor roles, including Sam Shepard (mentioned above as Frank James) and a lovely moment or two from Zooey Deschanel as the one person who seemed to love Robert Ford. Each and every performance shines as they feel true to life and part of history.

Most importantly, New Zealand director Andrew Dominik along with Cinematographer Roger Deakins paint a vivid portrait of the wild, wild west. As a storm brews throughout the vast landscape, we witness the coming storm in both the literal and figurative sense. In what is one of the most fantastic images in the film, a train makes its way directly into the hands of the James Gang, ready to rob all on board. A brilliant sequence drenched in light and dark with a surprisingly unnerving image of Jesse’s men with white masks upon their faces waiting in the dark of night. There is a brilliant sense of mystery presented here as lives are lost and wealth is made.

Dominik adds such an amazing depth and maturity to this film. Especially since he has so little on his resume. It looks and feels as though he must have made several films to get to this point. Perhaps it was choosing Deakins, whose experience is vast, to give life to his vision. Or maybe it’s the score, which is also perfect. It feels as much a part of the film as it could, without drowning the images on screen. Thank Nick Cave and Warren Ellis for that. Together, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD is easily one of the best films of the year.

With all the love, I do feel that the length will certainly turn a few folks away. Running at about two hours and forty-five minutes, it is a lengthy affair that may have a few people looking at their watch. Yet I would urge them to sit it out and let the story unfold. It is a poetic piece of filmmaking without the trappings of your typical, old west adventure. The somber tone of the film makes it all the more shocking when a trigger is pulled and the gunshot explodes and literally has the audience jumping. So if you are unafraid of it’s length, you owe it to yourself to see one of the most powerful films of the year. A truly great and satisfying film with flesh and blood characters, a moody score and a director with an amazing amount of promise. This is a stunningly rich vision of the outlaw and his destiny, enhanced by a magnificent, Oscar-worthy performance by Casey Affleck.

My rating 10/10JimmyO

Review: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford




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JimmyO is one of’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.