T he Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a stylish, meditative and poetic Western directed by Andrew Dominik that explores the contemporary obsession with celebrity.
The movie charts the fall of outlaw Jesse James (played by Brad Pitt, right), American's first celebrity gangster whose life achieves mythical status following his murder.
The film opens with sweeping cinematic scenes of James' final train robbery. His gang has several new members, including Ford (Casey Affleck, below), a star-struck young man who has worshipped James since he was a child, collecting dime novels and newspaper cuttings about the outlaw.
The plot reveals that the semi-retired James leads a double life. He is a sensitive and caring father at home but a constant danger to his former comrades, mercilessly picking them off without hesitation when he has the slightest suspicion of betrayal.
The story revolves around the love-hate relationship that develops between James and Ford. The sycophantic Ford manages to win James' trust, and the two develop a bond that borders on obsession.
In contrast to previous treatments of the James story, there is very little action in this movie, which runs for a long two hours and 40 minutes. Instead, Dominik tells the story slowly and seriously with real style, using the breathtaking wilderness of the Western landscape to highlight the solitude and emotional struggles that the characters endure.
Pitt is the star, but it's Affleck who steals the show with a flawless performance that chills the blood. If James is an unpredictable and violent monster, Ford is the shifty, silent psychopath. He slavishly idolises the older gunslinger until he destroys him with his bullet in the back.
The ending presents viewers with the sad irony that, while Ford is humiliated for his cowardly assassination, James is glorified as a champion of freedom and independence. But of course there is little real difference between the two murderers.
Ultimately The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a long and complex movie that requires, and often deserves, patience.
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