The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – A Movie Review

Quiet, subtle, and nuanced, this movie is a work of art for those interested in cinematography, story, and acting.  Anyone hoping for a “popcorn” movie will be sorely bored and disappointed.

The title says it all, for it focuses more on the motivations of Casey Affleck as Robert Ford than it does on the exploits of Brad Pitt as Jesse James.  In fact, the film is a classic character study, moving us from Robert Ford’s infatuation with James to his utter resentment of the man, despite their becoming partners (of sorts).

Clocking in at two and a half hours, the story takes its time peeling away layer after layer of Ford’s insecurities and James’ paranoia as it offers beautiful shots, lovely scenery, and props and costumes that are seemingly spot-on. 

The acting is magnificent, by the way.  Don’t look for any robust chest-thumping-this is the stuff of delicacy.  Affleck’s character is a coward, as the title reminds, and Affleck does a wonderful job through body language, facial expression, and voice inflection of seriously creeping the audience out.  He makes his character so uncomfortable to watch, so truly awkward, that he really won me over as a skilled actor.

In fact, James’ gang was terrified of him, and each actor in the gang seemed genuinely fearful.  Affleck was by far the best, but they all squirmed in such understated mannerisms around Pitt that I found myself on edge.  Perhaps Pitt was given the least amount to work with because James is something of a legend, but his acting really paled in comparison to Affleck.  I have to give Pitt credit, though, because while he may not be the strongest actor, he certainly chooses to take part in excellent movies.

The title tells exactly what happens near the end of the movie, but they (including Pitt) offer a very interesting interpretation as to why James put himself in the position he did.  Pitt’s dialogue, if you read between the lines … Well, I don’t want to spoil anything for you.  Let’s just say there is ample material for a character study of James’ psychology.

If you’re looking for a Wild West shoot-out with daring robberies and nefarious misadventure, look elsewhere.  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a low-key movie driven by the evolution (or perhaps devolution) of character.  It is fascinating, but it is meant for those with patience and an appreciation of story and art.