Another True Story of Jesse James
"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is not only an overly long movie title but at 160 minutes it is also a substantially long movie. Having a long title, other than being a mouthful, isn't an issue but unfortunately being a long movie is because whilst there are scenes of inspired greatness there are also lengthy scenes of meandering nothingness which clutter up the middle section of this movie. And so whilst the look at the last months of Jesse James and his killer Robert Ford are fascinating it struggles to keep you interested as it plods through scene after scene which seems to have nothing to do with the story, padding "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" out to feel as long as it is.
The year is 1881 and having pulled off their latest train robbery, the James gang go their separate ways with Frank (Sam Shepard - Stealth) going back East and Jesse James (Brad Pitt - Ocean's Thirteen) returning to his wife and children living under the alias of Thomas Howard. But Jesse seems to have become interested by one of his gang members, 19 year old Robert Ford (Casey Affleck - Ocean's Twelve), who idolises the notorious outlaw and so Jesse brings him home with him. But it doesn't take long for Jesse's mocking of the wimpy Robert to end up turning the young man bitter and eventually becoming his down fall.
At the simplest level "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" covers the final months of Jesse James starting with a train robbery. As it progresses through this opening series of scenes which frankly go on and on it establishes the legend of Jesse James, this Robin Hood like hero who leads an almost double life of being a train robber yet walking the streets unnoticed. It is all really interesting and helps give a history lesson to those whose knowledge of the outlaw is limited but like the movie this goes on and on as it also introduces us to his gang which includes Robert Ford. What leads on from here is how Jesse not only ends up going after members of his own gang but also Robert Ford deciding to kill Jesse in order to become a hero.
All of which would be fine if it wasn't so drawn out with a meandering middle section which seems to focus more on building up the characters of various members of the gang than those of Jesse and Robert. It becomes remarkably dull and whilst not confusing it causes you to lose interest because of it's lumbering nature. And what in effect is the best part of the movie, the consequences or Ford killing Jesse James are skimmed over in an interesting, yet truncated final section. It almost feels like "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" should have been a 2 part movie with the first movie being about the final days of Jesse James and then there should have been a second movie which focussed on what happened to Robert Ford.
And that is the thing as whilst "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" works on the simplest level, letting us have a look at the final days of Jesse James it has deeper levels thanks to Robert Ford. We discover that Ford idolised James, he read about him in the adventure stories written about his idol and it almost feels like he was in love with him. It makes for an interesting dynamic because it has that spurned lover element to it, although no relationship is ever insinuated. And then adding more depth is how Robert Ford is treated following the death of Jesse James as whilst an outlaw, a murdered and thief he was also a popular legend, a hero too many. But sadly this depth ends up being a missed opportunity because of the most interesting part, the final section is almost skimmed over in a rush to bring closure. Although the morbid ness of how Jesse James's body was dealt with delivers some of the movies best scenes.
Whilst the meandering storyline and length of "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" causes issues the acting is superb from all those involved. Brad Pitt seems so at home playing Jesse giving us two sides to the character, the manipulative villain who toys with people to get what he wants but at the same time a man who is growing tired through his constant need to keep moving and health problems. Pitt's level of manipulation works brilliantly with Casey Affleck as Robert Ford because we watch Ford going from this almost puppy like character who is in awe of Jesse to one who through being spurned and mocked becomes bitter and resentful. At the same time also delivering what a coward Ford was, a spineless creature with a nasty streak. It is Pitt and Affleck which make "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" so interesting but they are aided by solid performances all around from Jeremy Renner, Paul Schneider and especially Sam Rockwell who is quite brilliant as Robert's brother Charley Ford.
What this all boils down to is that "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is an interesting movie as it shows us the last months of Jesse James and what happened to his murderer Robert Ford. But like the movie's title it is an overly long movie and suffers because it has a meandering middle section which seems to focus on the wrong characters. And as such what is the most interesting aspect of the movie, what happened to Robert Ford almost feels like an after thought skimmed over rather than elaborated on.