#249- The most visually striking western I’ve ever watched. Brad Pitt’s greatest role is Jesse James

The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford is a western film from 2007. It was directed by Andrew Dominik who also directed the Eric Bana film Chopper and Killing them softly. While I really enjoyed those other two films there’s something about the assassination that is just so visually stunning and otherworldly. The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford is a triumph of cinema and a master class in character work and the deconstruction of a Western legend.

The film seems as if it is made of another time from the opening shot. The camera lenses made by the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins himself creates a Western film like I’ve never seen before. The music that accompanies the scenes are so beautiful and haunting. Nick Cave in my own opinion has crafted his most beautiful work right here for this film.

The first time I watched this film I did not fully understand or appreciate what I was watching. I was 17 and wanted to see Jesse James shooting, robbing the rich to give to the poor and being a renegade outlaw. I was disappointed at the often quiet and contemplating nature of the film. Almost a decade later I decided to watch the film again, I had time during the pandemic and was watching a lot of western films and thankfully decided to give it a second watch. This time I went in expecting not too much and by the time the credits rolled I was in awe of the masterpiece of cinema I had just watched. I truly believe that this film is one of the most cinematic and beautiful films I have ever seen. This film is one of those rare occurrences when writing,acting, direction, editing, soundtrack, lighting, pacing and casting was perfect simply perfect.

One of my favourite aspects of this film is the study and demystification of a legend of the wild west. What we know of Jesse James is that he was an outlaw, rebel and beloved character of the wild west. He stole from the rich to help the poor, he was noble and adored by American’s. This film debunks that myth, we see the man and not the legend, we see a flawed and violent criminal. In this film we don’t see grandiose robberies or shootouts we see Jesse pistol whip an unarmed man simply doing his job, he shoots a simple minded and kind man in the back who he believes betrays him and he holds a child down and beats him for information. This is a far cry from the iconic figure who’s name proceeds him, who’s reputation is still known to this day. As the film states people name their children after this man. The man is also a loving husband and father, he is flawed and saddened by the man he has become,Perhaps himself disillusioned. He is not a legend or a hero he is a man, flaws and all.

The title of the film gives the entire film a sense of destiny and impending doom for Jesse. Robert Ford is branded a coward from the outset. Bob Ford initially is a relatable and generally admirable character. While he appears nervous and awkward he wants better things and is a man of ambition. Jesse James is his idol, his hero he has read of him in nickel books since he was a boy and when he meets him at the age of 19 he begins to peel pack the mystery of Jesse and becomes resentful of the man for not living up to the hero he read about as a boy. While trying to speak to the elder brother Frank, played beautifully by the great Sam Sheppard he has a gun pulled on him due to his peculiar and hostile nature.

Bob Ford sits with Jesse and declares himself an authority on the James boys, Jesse chuckles at this and speaks about a woman he saw suck noodles up her nose. Robert Ford is always at odds with admiration and resentment throughout the film’s runtime. I believe part of the brilliance of the characters dynamic is also what the actors bring to the role. Jesse is a hero and known worldwide similar to the movie star icon brad Pitt has been now for decades. That baggage and past roles is all brought to this performance and adds such weight to the role. Casey Affleck is the younger brother of more famous elder brother Ben Affleck, similar to Bob who’s brothers know Jesse and have a better known reputation than him. The small dog attitude and bitter nature is all brought to the forefront of his performance. Casey Affleck adds so much to the character of Robert Ford who was the man who decided to kill Jesse James instead of being brought to jail by law enforcement. He’s in a kill or be killed position and with Jesse spiraling out of control it’s understandable why he chooses the path he does. This is a complicated film that requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate.

The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford is one of my favourite films ever made. The train robbery scene is one of the most incredibly shot sequences in cinema. There is elements of Stanley Kubrick is some of the shots. There is a sense of the history channel is some of the shots and voice over, in particular the opening sequence. There is scenes of violence that belong in a Scorsese film and dialogue that is poetic and incredibly deep as if Bob Dylan was involved in the writing. Once this film starts you are transported to another time and another world. This film has stuck with me now and I watch it regularly. I listen to the soundtrack often and play the vinyl fully while reading or just sitting at home. Andrew Dominik has crafted something very specific, very special and incredibly rare. He has created a perfect film, a film for film lovers and fans of the western genre but more than that a film where the characters and the writing is at the forefront.

The incredible train robbery scene from the Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford

10 thoughts on “#249- The most visually striking western I’ve ever watched. Brad Pitt’s greatest role is Jesse James

  1. Yes, that one was good too. Frightened of that bloke.

    They do like their violence, those brothers. But with their classy films, skilled writing and detailed cinematography, I forgive them. Watch it.


    Liked by 1 person

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