The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Rated 4.0

Among all the movies made about the legendary outlaw Jesse James, there’s almost certainly never been one like this. And Robert Ford, the young galoot who rode along with Jesse and eventually shot him dead, has rarely been so fully foregrounded in any film apart from Samuel Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James in 1949. Long, slow, somber, darkly beautiful, fascinatingly morose—this weirdly lively anti-western (drawn from a remarkable novel by Ron Hansen) lives large as a bummed-out dual portrait in the guise of an inverted epic. Brad Pitt might be the best movie Jesse James ever—crazier than Robert Duvall in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972) and more charismatically demonic than Tyrone Power, Audie Murphy and James Keach put together. And the corrosive delicacy of Casey Affleck’s Robert Ford, callow idolator and gullible assassin, just might surpass all similarly cast predecessors in revisionist westerns. Writer-director Andrew Dominik and cinematographer Roger Deakins render the drama through a voluptuous haze well-suited to a study of memory befuddled and deranged. There is a surprisingly contemporary edge to the scenes that have Pitt and Affleck fencing verbally and feigning nonchalance while various assortments of insanity hover nearby.