Cast: Brad Pitt (Jesse James), Casey Affleck (Robert Ford), Sam Rockwell (Charley Ford), Jeremy Renner (Wood Hite), Sam Shepard (Frank James)
Director: Andrew Dominik (Chopper, Killing them Softly)
Plot: Without giving anything away, the film is about Jesse James, his detached life, and the young man who worships him and eventually comes to resent him.
Why you should watch it: This film, released in 2007, is a sprawling epic full of quiet and reflection. Now, this doesn't bode well for people expecting a shoot-em-up Western. The Assassination of Jesse James is more of a thoughtful investigation into the dynamic of Jesse James and the impact he had on those around him. The film has quite a few things going for it, namely the cast, the story, and time it takes to establish the story. The best thing about it, in my opinion, is the subject matter.
The Western as a genre is as old as film itself. This film is a different look at that era, much like Unforgiven was in 1992. The story of Jesse James is at least familiar to most Americans. It has become more of an American Tall Tale than a universally accepted truth. The Assassination looks to change that by making the protagonist more of a mortal man, filled with problems and contradictions. Pitt's James is a man with a fractured conscience. He's a family man who is sort of an unknown to his family. He's a murderer with no remorse, but a kind and generous man in town under one of his many aliases. By debunking the myth of the American outlaw, a killer, a robber, a thief, this film serves to be more of a reality check in order to make sure the viewer knows exactly who the subject is and what he was truly like. Brad Pitt leads the cast as Jesse James.
Pitt has, through the years, become a very good and respected actor. His James is bolstered by the additions of Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell (always a great actor), Sam Shepard, Mary-Louise Parker, and Paul Schneider. The supporting cast meshes together well, all forming the circle surrounding Jesse James. These characters are basically enablers to James' lifestyle, never speaking their minds for fear of retribution. Casey Affleck is particularly outstanding as the titular Robert Ford. By the movie's title, we know what will happen, but that's the beauty of this film - it takes it time to set up the inevitable.
The Assassination weighs in at a very heavy 160 minutes. That's almost three full hours of film. The movie takes its time telling the story, almost mirroring the pace of the late 1800s. If you are the type of person who has a short attention span, who has to be entertained at every turn, for every second, then this probably isn't the film for you. The beauty of this film is that it's in no hurry to tell its story. That's what makes the ending so outstanding. It's a sad tale all around, full of self-doubting characters capable of cruelty and atrocities. However it's also a precise reflection of both the characters and the setting.
I can't recommend this film enough. The trailer gives some indication of the sprawling expanse and pacing of the film, but I suggest giving it a watch one evening when you've nothing on your schedule. I've always been a fan of the Western as a genre, and this film is a strong representation of what a Western can and should be. Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments.