The Rear-View Mirror: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

“Do you want to be like me? Or do you want to be me?”

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Jesse James, as played by Brad Pitt, is a canny creature. He observes the nervous, deferential Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) and sees a fanboy, though one whose adoration and longing could easily turn into something else, something darker. If you can’t be your hero, what can you do? You can depose him. You can kill him.

Of course, Jesse James’ quasi-mythical stature isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The word “outlaw” has a heroic sound to it, but James is a criminal, a robber who doesn’t really seem to mind forays into assault and murder. He’s also fickle, paranoid and increasingly unstable – and there comes a point at which he may not be all too averse to having his myth set in stone in the way it usually happens in America.

These two men are made for each other – except while both end up dead, only one will end up a legend. The fate of the other is made all too clear in the title the story bears.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

More than ten years after its release, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Andrew Dominik is still one of my favourite films and it’s definitely my favourite western. The writing is great, the cast is as close to perfect as these things get, the music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis the perfect accompaniment to Roger Deakins’ sublime cinematography (not the only time Deakins should have won an Academy Award but didn’t).

In the end, though, it’s the sad, deadly way the film’s two title characters encircle each other that keeps bringing me back. Here’s the larger-than-life figure that it’s difficult not to become infatuated with, at least at first sight, and there’s the little man who, struggle as much as he likes, will always end up serving the outlaw’s legend, one way or another. Who would want to be either?

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Rear-View Mirror will return every Friday, looking further and further into the past. Fasten your seatbelts: it may just be a bumpy ride.

3 thoughts on “The Rear-View Mirror: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

  1. Film4Fan September 16, 2018 / 10:48 am

    Great review! It’s such a gorgeously shot film!

    • thirithch September 16, 2018 / 2:02 pm

      Isn’t it? I love Deakins’ work on Blade Runner 2049, but this film is Deakins at his best. I love it in all respects, but the visuals do stand out, in particular in combination with the music.

      • Film4Fan September 16, 2018 / 5:19 pm

        That train sequence was a feast for the eyes. Absolutely incredible.

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