The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

“Beyond the myth lies America’s greatest betrayal.” With a running time of 160 minutes, this outstanding revisionist Western unfolds at a deliberate pace (to say the least!) but offers some rich rewards along the way for the patient viewer. Directed by Andrew Dominik (Chopper) and based on Ron Hansen’s critically acclaimed 1983 novel of the same name, the film explores the complex relationship between famous outlaw Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and his eventual assassin, the creepy, hero-worshipping young wannabe Robert Ford (Casey Affleck, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar but lost out to Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men). With the law bearing down on him, the increasingly paranoid James moves from hideout to hideout, always distrustful of his rather dysfunctional gang, while Ford becomes gradually disillusioned with his former hero. The solid supporting cast includes Sam Shepard (Frank James), Sam Rockwell (Charley Ford), Paul Schneider (Dick Liddil), Jeremy Renner (Wood Hite), Garret Dillahunt (Ed Miller), Mary-Louise Parker (Zee James) and Zooey Deschanel (Dorothy Evans). Highlights include the final train robbery and the awkward assassination itself, as well as the strange and pathetic reenactments of the crime by Ford and his brother Charley on stage in front of packed (and sometimes hostile!) audiences: “By his own approximation, Bob assassinated Jesse James over 800 times. He suspected no one in history had ever so often or so publicly recapitulated an act of betrayal.” The film features stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins (who was nominated for an Oscar but lost out to Robert Elswit for There Will Be Blood) and a haunting score from Nick Cave (who appears in a bar scene performing “The Ballad of Jesse James”) and Warren Ellis. Ford (1862-1892) is buried in Richmond Cemetery in Ray County, Missouri, and his grave reads “THE MAN WHO SHOT JESSE JAMES.”  

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