Tuesday, March 18, 2014
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
In 1881, the 19-year old Bob Ford feels lucky when he gets the chance to meet Jesse James, the outlaw he always idolized, and join his gang in their last robbery of a train, before the group is disbanded. Jesse, idolized by naive people who mistake his robberies for armed resistance of the defeated Confederate states, enjoys the company of Bob, but his mood swings and ridicule alienate Bob. Jesse also hunts down and kills former gang member, thinking they may be planing to double-cross him. Hoping to get famous, in 1882 Bob accepts the taks of the police to apprehend the outlaw. Jesse indeed picks up Bob and his brother Charley and brings them to his house, where he lives with his wife and two kids. On the 3 April, Bob shoots Jesse. For a brief moment, Bob becomes famous, but is then labelled a coward. In 1892, Bob is himself assassinated.
As numerous critics already neatly observed, Andrew Dominik's art-western "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is a very rafined and symbolic essay about the modern phenomenon of celebrities and stalkers (the idolized outlaw Jesse James and his "fan", the 19-year old Bob Ford), yet it does not just stop there: it is also a sly essay on the modern Herostratus and people who cannot find their place in the world but always stay rejected by the society, no matter what they do. The cinematography is very good (a fantastic moment of the train stopping in the forest at night while Jesse's robbers are extremely illuminated by lights and shadows "passing by") even though the visual style is overall actually conventional, the storyline is a tiny bit overlong and here and there a few bizarre scenes show up (the unnecessary scene of Jesse chopping up the head of a snake), yet the movie justifies its existence by giving a very strong exploration of the above mentioned three themes. The last hour of the film is the real highlight: not only is the tension between Bob and Charley, who feel trapped by the paranoid Jesse in his house, very palpable and causes the suspense to slowly rise, but it is also interesting what happens next after the event "spoiled" already in the title: the last 20 minutes of the film follow Bob Ford as a man who lost his aim in life, a person who wanted to meet his idol, but was then disappointed by him; a person who wanted to become famous, but was just branded by the stigma as the coward who is recognized and despized by everyone; a person who wanted to do something right and gain recognition, but just got cold looks from the people. It is a very expressionistic ending, and causes the viewers to think. Also, Brad Pitt (who probably himself felt "trapped" by his own fame just like Jesse who never had his own quiet peace) and Casey Affleck truly give great and untypical performances and help support the film.