Taking place in the American Northwest in the early 1880s, the film dramatizes the last seven months in the life of famed outlaw Jesse James, beginning with the Blue Cut train robbery of 1881 and culminating in his assassination at the hands of Robert Ford the following April. In the time between these two fateful events, the young and jealous Ford befriends the increasingly mistrustful outlaw, even as he plots his demise.
User Reviews: Though Jesse James through the newspaper accounts of his exploits and through the dime novels of the day was already a legend, his immortality was sealed on April 3, 1882 by the manner of his death. The lengthy title of the film tells all or at least the official version of the story.
But was that accepted version the real story? For the first time the Ford brothers, Robert and Charley, get their due. As played by Casey Affleck, Robert Ford was a most complex character indeed. Ford is shown for what he was, a moonstruck kid who was brought up on those dime novels and idolized the legendary bandit. The fact that Charley was already riding with the James gang got him into the group.
After the last job the James gang pulled and the only Ford was ever in on, the Fords kind of attached themselves to Jesse James. Of course the idol is no hero. Brad Pitt plays a most unheroic Jesse.
Hints of Pitt’s interpretation of Jesse’s character are found in the classic portrayal of Jesse James by Tyrone Power. Remember when the laconic Henry Fonda as Frank James dresses Jesse down, tells him he’s getting mean, meaner every day even with some of his own gang members? Power was showing signs of it, but we see Pitt as Jesse do some really brutal and cruel things. At the same time he’s a loving husband to Mary Louise Parker and doting father to his two children.
As good as Pitt is I think the acting honors go to Casey Affleck. His gradual disillusion with his idol is really something to see on the screen. He becomes really scared of Pitt for reasons I won’t reveal, but were definitely sufficient to want him to get Pitt.
We also get to see the Fords sorry aftermath. Things did not go so well for them. Bob Ford did not quite get the acclaim he would have liked as Jesse James became bigger after death than in life.
Frank James as played briefly in the beginning is an odd peripheral character in this film. The James brothers did separate some months before Jesse’s death. Frank is played by Sam Shepard who has an encounter with young Bob Ford at the beginning of the film and announces to one and all, the kid creeps him out. But Jesse likes having the kid follow him around like a puppy dog to his ultimate regret.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a very good western and we sure don’t see too many of them in these times. It’s shot in an unusual color, almost like one of those sepia-tone films that were in vogue for a brief spell. The location shooting was done in western Canada and looks a whole lot more like Missouri then than Missouri does now.