2007   USA The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford Image Cover
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Director:Andrew Dominik
Studio:Warner Brothers
Writer:Andrew Dominik, Ron Hansen
IMDb Rating:7.7 (70,100 votes)
Awards:Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 9 wins & 18 nominations
Duration:160 min
Andrew Dominik  ...  (Director)
Andrew Dominik, Ron Hansen  ...  (Writer)
Brad Pitt  ...  Jesse James
Casey Affleck  ...  Robert Ford
Sam Rockwell  ...  Charley Ford
Mary-Louise Parker  ...  Zee James
Brooklynn Proulx  ...  Mary James
Paul Schneider  ...  Dick Liddil
Jeremy Renner  ...  Wood Hite
Sam Shepard  ...  Frank James
Garret Dillahunt  ...  Ed Miller
Alison Elliott  ...  Martha Bolton
James Carville  ...  Governor Crittenden
Dustin Bollinger  ...  Tim James
Zooey Deschanel  ...  Dorothy Evans
Hugh Ross  ...  Narrator (voice)
Joel McNichol  ...  Express Messenger
James Defelice  ...  Baggagemaster (as James DeFelice)
J.C. Roberts  ...  Engineer
Darrell Orydzuk  ...  Ukranian Train Passenger
Kailin See  ...  Sarah Hite
Jonathan Erich Drachenberg  ...  Young Train Passenger
Torben Hansen  ...  Danish Train Passenger (as Torben S. Hansen)
Lauren Calvert  ...  Ida
Tom Aldredge  ...  Major George Hite
Jesse Frechette  ...  Albert Ford
Pat Healy  ...  Wilbur Ford
Michael Parks  ...  Henry Craig
Ted Levine  ...  Sheriff Timberlake
Joel Duncan  ...  Deputy
Stephanie Wahlstrom  ...  Store Customer
Adam Arlukiewicz  ...  Newsboy
Ian Ferrier  ...  Photographer
Michael Rogers  ...  Onlooker at Jesse's Death
Calvin Bliid  ...  Small Boy at Jesse's Death
Sarah Lind  ...  Bob's Girlfriend
Nick Cave  ...  Bowery Saloon Singer
Matthew Walker  ...  Bowery Saloonkeeper
Michael Copeman  ...  Edward O'Kelly
Laryssa Yanchak  ...  Ella Mae Waterson
Warren Ellis  ...  composer
Roger Deakins  ...  Cinematographer
Summary: Of all the movies made about or glancingly involving the 19th-century outlaw Jesse Woodson James, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is the most reflective, most ambitious, most intricately fascinating, and indisputably most beautiful. Based on the novel of the same name by Ron Hansen, it picks up James late in his career, a few hours before his final train robbery, then covers the slow catastrophe of the gang's breakup over the next seven months even as the boss himself settles into an approximation of genteel retirement. But in another sense all of the movie is later than that. The very title assumes the audience's familiarity with James as a figure out of history and legend, and our awareness that he was--will be--murdered in his parlor one quiet afternoon by a backshooting crony.
The film--only the second to be made by New Zealand-born writer-director Andrew Dominik--reminds us that Dominik's debut film, Chopper (2000), was the cunningly off-kilter portrait of another real-life criminal psychopath who became a kind of rock star to his society. The Jesse James of this telling is no Robin Hood robbing the rich to give to the poor, and that train robbery we witness is punctuated by acts of gratuitous brutality, not gallantry. Nineteen-year-old Bob Ford (Casey Affleck) seeks to join the James gang out of hero worship stoked by the dime novels he secretes under his bed, but his glam hero (Brad Pitt) is a monster who takes private glee in infecting his accomplices with his own paranoia, then murdering them for it. In the careful orchestration of James's final moments, there's even a hint that he takes satisfaction in his own demise.
Affleck and Pitt (who co-produced with Ridley Scott, among others) are mesmerizing in the title roles, but the movie is enriched by an exceptional supporting cast: Sam Shepard as Jesse's older, more stable brother Frank; Sam Rockwell as Bob Ford's own brother Charlie, whose post-assassination descent into madness is astonishing to behold; Paul Schneider, Garret Dillahunt, and Jeremy Renner as three variously doomed gang members; and Mary-Louise Parker, who as Jesse's wife Zee has few lines yet manages with looks and body language to invoke a wellnigh-novelistic backstory for herself. There are also electrifying cameos by James Carville, doing solid actorly work as the governor of Missouri; Ted Levine, as a lawman of antic spirit; and Nick Cave, composer of the film's score (with Warren Ellis) and screenwriter of the Aussie "Western"The Proposition, suddenly towering over a late scene to perform the folk song that set the terms for the book and movie's title.
Still, the real costar is Roger Deakins, probably the finest cinematographer at work today. The landscapes of the movie (mostly in Alberta and Manitoba) will linger in the memory as long as the distinctive faces, and we seem to feel the sting of its snows on our cheeks. Interior scenes are equally persuasive. Few Westerns have conveyed so tangibly the bleakness and austerity of the spaces people of the frontier called home, and sought in vain to warm with human spirit. --Richard T. Jameson

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