THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD directed by Andrew Dominik (USA, 2007)
Brad Pitt is the star attraction of the movie but, as the full title suggests, the main focus is on the cowardly act of betrayal by Robert Ford. Ford is played by Casey Affleck who is kid brother to Ben and looks like a young David Byrne. He is perfect in the role of nerdy wannabe outlaw.
Anyone expecting an action packed yarn will be disappointed. You only have to hear the score by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis to get the languid and melancholy mood. By the time we see what remains of the James Gang, they are a spent force. After one last hold up the only way is down.
The brothers Frank (Sam Shepherd) and Jesse are estranged and the law is tightening its net. Jesse at 34 is a shadow of his former self and no longer the dynamic man of action whose daring deeds led to his mythical status and notoriety.
Usually I hate the use of a voiceover for anything more than an initial scene setting. In Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino, for example, this device struck me as intrusive and superfluous. In The Assassination of Jesse James however the poetic language , beautifully spoken by Scottish actor Hugh Ross, adds to the narrative of this elegiac western.
The screenplay as a whole, from the novel by Ron Hansen, is superbly judged as is the cinematography by Roger Deakens which gives the epic landscape a strangely claustrophobic atmosphere.
It’s a shade too long and the cameo performance by Nick Cave singing the Ballad of Jesse James looks out of place but overall this is a remarkably assured directorial work by Andrew Dominik. He recognises that you can create dramatic tension in a movie even when you know exactly how it will end.