The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Assassination poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Andrew Dominik
Produced by Ridley Scott
Jules Daly
Brad Pitt
Dede Gardner
David Valdes
Screenplay by Andrew Dominik
Based on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 
by Ron Hansen
Starring Brad Pitt
Casey Affleck
Sam Shepard
Mary-Louise Parker
Paul Schneider
Jeremy Renner
Zooey Deschanel
Sam Rockwell
Narrated by Hugh Ross
Music by Nick Cave
Warren Ellis
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Edited by Dylan Tichenor
Michael Kahn
Production
company
Virtual Studios
Scott Free Productions
Plan B Entertainment
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • September 21, 2007 (2007-09-21)
Running time 159 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $30 million[1]
Box office $15,001,776[2]

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a 2007 American western drama film written and directed by Andrew Dominik. Adaptated from Ron Hansen's 1983 novel of the same name, the film dramatizes the relationship between James (Brad Pitt) and Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), focusing on the events that lead up to the titular killing.

Filming took place in Edmonton, Alberta; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Grafton, Utah. Initially intended for a 2006 release, it was postponed and re-edited for a September 21, 2007 release.

Plot[edit]

Young, starstruck Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) seeks out Jesse James (Brad Pitt) when the James gang is planning a train robbery in Blue Cut, Missouri, making unsuccessful attempts to join the gang with the help of his older brother Charley (Sam Rockwell), already a member. The train turns out to be carrying only a fraction of the money originally thought, and Frank James (Sam Shepard) tells Charley Ford that this robbery would be the last the James brothers would commit, and that the gang had "gave up their nightridin' for good." Jesse returns home to Kansas City, bringing the Fords, Dick Liddil (Paul Schneider) and his cousin, Wood Hite (Jeremy Renner). Jesse sends Charley, Wood and Dick away, but insists that Bob stay. He wanted the younger man just for his help in moving furniture to a new home in St. Joseph. Bob becomes more admiring of James before being sent back to his sister's farmhouse, where he rejoins his brother Charley, Hite, and Liddil.

Liddil reveals to Bob that he is in collusion with another member of the James gang, Jim Cummins, to capture Jesse for a substantial bounty. Meanwhile, Jesse visits another gang member, Ed Miller (Garret Dillahunt), who gives away information on Cummins' plot. Jesse kills Miller, then departs with Liddil to hunt down Cummins. Unable to locate him, Jesse viciously beats Albert Ford (Jesse Frechette), a young cousin of Bob and Charley. Liddil returns to the Boltons' farmhouse, and argues with Hite, which ends with Bob Ford killing Hite. They dump his body in the woods to conceal the murder from Jesse.

Jesse and Charley Ford travel to St. Joseph, Missouri, where Jesse learns of Hite's disappearance, which Charley denies knowing anything about. Meanwhile, Bob goes to Kansas City police commissioner, Henry Craig (Michael Parks), saying he knows about Jesse James' whereabouts. To prove his allegiance with the James gang, Bob urges Craig to arrest Dick Liddil. Following Liddil's arrest and confession to participation in numerous gang robberies, Bob brokers a deal with the Governor of Missouri, Thomas T. Crittenden (James Carville). He is given 10 days to capture or kill Jesse James, and promised a substantial bounty and full pardon for murder.

Charley persuades Jesse to take Bob Ford into the gang; the brothers travel to Jesse's home in St. Joseph. Introduced as cousins to the Howards (the James' pseudonym), they stay with the family, including Zee James (Mary-Louise Parker) and their two children. Jesse wants to revive his gang by robberies with the Fords, beginning with the Platte City bank. On the morning of April 3, 1882, Jesse and the Ford brothers prepare to depart for the Platte City robbery. Jesse reads about the arrest and confessions of Liddil in the morning paper. While the three men are in the living room, Jesse removes his gun belt, and climbs a chair to clean a dusty picture. Robert Ford shoots him in the back of the head, and the Ford brothers flee. They send a telegram to the governor to announce Jesse's death, for which they were to receive $10,000. They never receive more than $500 each.

After the murder, the Fords become celebrities for a time, touring with a theater show in Manhattan, in which they re-enact the killing, but people dislike that Ford shot James in the back. Guilt-stricken, Charley writes numerous letters to Zee James asking for her forgiveness, but does not send them. Suffering from terminal TB, he commits suicide in May 1884. Bob works around the West. On June 8, 1892, he is murdered by Edward O'Kelley (Michael Copeman), at his saloon in Creede, Colorado. O'Kelley is sentenced to life in prison, but Colorado Governor James Bradley Orman pardons him after ten years in 1902.

Cast[edit]

The film is narrated by Hugh Ross.

Production[edit]

This working engine and train at Fort Edmonton Park was featured in the film.

In March 2004, Warner Bros. and Plan B Entertainment acquired feature film rights to Ron Hansen's 1983 novel The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Andrew Dominik was hired to write and direct the film adaptation. Pitt was considered to portray Jesse James.[3] The role of Ford eventually was between Affleck and Shia LaBeouf; Affleck was cast because it was felt that LaBeouf was too young. Bill Clinton's presidential campaign strategist James Carville was selected to play the Governor of Missouri.[4] By January 2005, Pitt was cast,[5] and filming began on August 29, 2005 in Calgary.[6] Filming also took place in other parts of Alberta, including McKinnon Flats, Heritage Park, the Fairmont Palliser Hotel, the Kananaskis area, several private ranches[7] and the historical Fort Edmonton Park.[7] The historical town of Creede, Colorado was recreated at a cost of $1 million near Goat Creek in Alberta.[8] Filming also took place in Winnipeg in the city's historic Exchange District; the Burton Cummings Theatre (formerly known as The Walker Theatre) and the Pantages Playhouse Theatre,[9] and concluded in December 2005.[8]

The film was initially edited by director Dominik to be "a dark, contemplative examination of fame and infamy,"[10] similar to the style of director Terrence Malick. The studio opposed Dominik's approach, preferring less contemplation and more action. One version of the film had a running time of more than three hours. Pitt and Ridley Scott, producers of the film, and editors Dylan Tichenor (who left the production early to cut There Will Be Blood, and was replaced with editor Curtis Clayton, who ultimately finished the production) and Michael Kahn (who was brought in for several weeks as the studio's "go to" editor), collaborated to assemble and test different versions. These did not receive strong scores from test audiences. Despite the negative response, the audiences considered the performances by Pitt and Affleck to be some of their careers' best.[11] Brad Pitt had it written into his contract that the studio could not change the name of the film.[12]

Cinematography[edit]

Cinematographer Roger Deakins used palettes of brown and black to produce a bleak yet oneiric quality to the film, reminiscent of the paintings of Andrew Wyeth.[13]
An exterior shot. Notice the color aberration around the edges, imitating the look of old photographs.

One of the most well-known sequences of the film is the scene of a train robbery at night time. Cinematographer Roger Deakins used various cinematographic techniques to give the train more of a presence when it was in pitch darkness. The idea was to generate a sense of forbidding atmosphere by using only the lanterns held up by the outlaws and the 5K PAR light mounted on the front of the train[14] In order to enhance the blacks, Deakins did a slight bleach bypass on the negative, which was especially important in terms of rendering detail.[14]

Some scenes in the film have a blurred effect around the borders of the frame. These were achieved by taking old wide-angle lenses and mounting them onto the front several cameras (Arri Macros in this case). Deakins claimed to have pioneered this technique, naming these combinations of lenses "Deakinizers", which created the effect of vignetting and a slight color aberration around the edges. Deakins recalls:

Most of those shots were used for transitional moments, and the idea was to create the feeling of an old-time camera. We weren’t trying to be nostalgic, but we wanted those shots to be evocative. The idea sprang from an old photograph Andrew [Dominik] liked, and we did a lot of tests to mimic the look of the photo. Andrew had a whole lot of photographic references for the look of the movie, mainly the work of still photographers, but also images clipped from magazines, stills from Days of Heaven, and even Polaroids taken on location that looked interesting or unusual. He hung all of them up in the long corridor of the production office. That was a wonderful idea, because every day we'd all pass by [images] that immediately conveyed the tone of the movie he wanted to make.

[14]

Several time-lapse sequences appear throughout the film, which were shot by Steadicam operator Damon Moreau. According to Moreau, he was sent to do such shots when the crew was not quite ready to shoot a scene.[citation needed] These time-lapse sequences were often accompanied by the film's melancholic score, suggesting the passage of time and contributing to the uneasiness that builds up to the inevitable yet unsettling climax.[citation needed]

Music[edit]

The music for the film was composed by Australian musicians Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.[15] Both men collaborated to create the award-winning score for the Australian film The Proposition (2005).

Nick Cave had a minor part in the latter part of the film. He played a strolling balladeer in a crowded bar, where, unrecognized by the other patrons, Bob Ford had to listen to the lyrics of "The Ballad of Jesse James" as performed by Cave. This folk song referred to Ford as a coward.

Cave and Ellis released a double disc album titled White Lunar in September 2009, which contains several tracks from the Jesse James score, as well as tracks they composed for other films up to 2009.[16]

Release[edit]

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was originally slated for a September 15, 2006 release.[17] The release date was postponed to February 2007 at first,[18] but ultimately set for a September 21, 2007 release,[19] almost two years after filming was completed.[11]

The film opened in limited release on September 21, 2007, in 5 theaters and grossed $147,812 in its opening weekend, an average of $29,256 per theater.[20] The film has a total gross of less than $4 million.

Warner Home Video released the film on DVD on February 5, 2008[21] in the US, and on March 31 in the UK. So far, about 566,537 DVD units have been sold, bringing $9,853,258 in revenue.[22]

Reception[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received primarily positive reviews and garnered a wide range of awards. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 76% fresh rating, based on 169 reviews.[23] On Metacritic, the film has an average score of 68 out of 100, based on 32 reviews.[24]

Brian Tallerico of UGO gave the film an "A" and said that it is "the best western since Unforgiven." Tallerico also said, "Stunning visuals, award-worthy performances, and a script that takes incredibly rewarding risks, Jesse James is a masterpiece and one of the best films of the year."[25] Kurt Loder of MTV said, "If I were inclined to wheel out clichés like 'Oscar-worthy', I'd certainly wheel them out in support of this movie, on several counts."[26]

Richard Roeper on the television show Ebert & Roeper said, "If you love classic and stylish mood Westerns such as McCabe and Mrs. Miller and The Long Riders, this is your film."[27] Roger Ebert noted the "curiously erotic dance of death" between James and the "mesmerized" younger Ford. Finally, he said, "If Robert cannot be the lover of his hero, what would be more intimate than to kill him?"[28] He notes that it has the "space and freedom" of classic Western epics, where "the land is so empty, it creates a vacuum demanding men to become legends."[28]

The Star-Ledger film critic Stephen Whitty gave the film four stars and called it an "epic film that's part literary treatise, part mournful ballad, and completely a portrait of our world, as seen in a distant mirror." Whitty also said that the film is "far superior" and "truer to its own world" than 3:10 to Yuma.[29] Josh Rosenblatt of The Austin Chronicle gave the film 3.5 stars and said the film "grabs on to many of the classic tropes of the Western – the meandering passage of time, the imposing landscapes, the abiding loneliness, the casual violence – and sets about mapping their furthest edges."[30]

Film critic Emanuel Levy gave the film an "A" and wrote, "Alongside Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men, which is a Western in disguise, or rather a modern Western, Assassination of Jesse James is the second masterpiece of the season." Levy also wrote, "Like Bonnie & Clyde, Dominik's seminal Western is a brilliant, poetic saga of America's legendary criminal as well as meditative deconstruction of our culture's most persistent issues: link of crime and fame, myths of heroism and obsession with celebrity."[31] Lewis Beale of Film Journal International said "Impeccably shot, cast and directed, this is a truly impressive film from sophomore writer-director Andrew Dominik... but suffers from an unfortunate case of elephantiasis." Beale said Affleck is "outstanding in a breakout performance" and said Pitt is "scary and charismatic." Beale wrote, "The director seems so in love with his languorous pacing, he's incapable of cutting the five or ten seconds in any number of scenes that could have given the film a more manageable running time. In the scheme of things, however, this amounts to little more than a quibble." Beale said that ultimately, the film is "a fascinating, literary-based work that succeeds as both art and genre film."[32]

Critic Mark Kermode named the film as his best of 2007 in his end-of-year review on Simon Mayo's BBC radio programme. Kermode later wrote that historians a hundred years from now will consider it "one of the most wrongly neglected masterpieces of its era."[33]

Many critics opined that the film is too long. Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter said that the relationship between Pitt and Affleck "gets smothered in pointlessly long takes, repetitive scenes, grim Western landscapes and mumbled, heavily accented dialogue."[34] Los Angeles Daily News critic Bob Strauss gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4 and said, "To put it most bluntly, the thing is just too long and too slow." Strauss also said, "Every element of this Western is beautifully rendered. So why is it a chore to sit through?"[35] Pam Grady of Reel.com gave the film 2 stars out of 4 and said, "The movie is merely a long, empty exercise in style."[36] Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com said that the film "represents a breakthrough in the moviegoing experience. It may be the first time we've been asked to watch a book on tape."[37]

Peter Bradshaw's review in The Guardian noted James's contribution to his own demise as well as the apparent paradox in the title of both novel and film:

As his career draws to an end, Jesse James becomes aware of the impossibility of facing an increasingly vast army of sheriffs, federal agents and Pinkerton men. He senses that, inevitably, one of his gang will in any case sell him out for a fat reward. Unwilling to give the lawmen that satisfaction, James embraces his own death and subtly cultivates the mercurial attentions of the most obviously cringing and cowardly of his associates: 20-year-old Robert Ford. With the taunts and whims of a lover, he encourages Ford's envious, murderous fascination, and grooms him as his own killer, so that his own legend will be pristine after his death. He engineers a character-assassination of Ford, and the title, knowingly, gets it precisely the wrong way around.[38]

Top ten lists[edit]

The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2007.[39]

Accolades[edit]

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was identified by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures as one of the top 10 films of 2007. The board also named Casey Affleck as Best Supporting Actor in the film.[42] The San Francisco Film Critics Circle named The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford as the Best Picture of 2007. The circle also awarded Affleck as best supporting actor for the film. Affleck was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture for the 65th Golden Globe Awards.[43]

The film received two Academy Award nominations for the 80th Academy Awards. Affleck was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Roger Deakins was nominated for Best Cinematography.[44] Earlier in the year, Brad Pitt won the prestigious Volpi Cup for Best Actor when the film premiered at the annual Venice Film Festival. Several other awards circles also awarded composers Nick Cave and Warren Ellis for their music in the film (see below).

The film also holds a place on Empire's recent list of The 500 Greatest Films of All Time, coming in at #396.[45]

Award Category Recipients and nominees Outcome
Academy Awards Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role Casey Affleck Nominated
Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Nominated
American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases Roger Deakins Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics (BFCA) Best Supporting Actor Casey Affleck Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Won
Best Original Score Nick Cave
Warren Ellis
Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Casey Affleck Nominated
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Top Ten Films of the Year - 9th
Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Won
Best Supporting Actor Casey Affleck 3rd
Detroit Film Critics Best Supporting Actor Casey Affleck Nominated
Empire Awards Best Film - Nominated
Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards Best Foreign Film - English Language Andrew Dominik Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Won
Golden Globes Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role Casey Affleck Nominated
Golden Reel Awards Best Sound Editing - Music in a Feature Film Gerard McCann
William B. Kaplan
Jonathan Karp
Nominated
Golden Trailer Awards Best Drama Poster - Won
Best Voice Over - Won
Houston Film Critics Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Won
International Cinephile Society Top Ten Films of the Year - 4th
Best Supporting Actor Casey Affleck Won
Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Won
Best Original Score Nick Cave
Warren Ellis
2nd
Italian Online Movie Awards Best Cinematography - Won
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Brad Pitt Nominated
Las Vegas Film Critics Top Ten Films of the Year - 4th
London Film Critics Actor of the Year Casey Affleck Nominated
Film of the Year - Nominated
National Board of Review Top Ten Films of the Year - Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Casey Affleck Won
National Society of Film Critics Best Supporting Actor Casey Affleck Won
Online Film Critics Society Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Nominated
Best Score Nick Cave
Warren Ellis
Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Casey Affleck Nominated
San Francisco Film Critics Best Picture - Won
Best Supporting Actor Casey Affleck Won
Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actor Casey Affleck Won
Best Art Direction and Production Design Patricia Norris
Martin Gendron
Troy Sizemore
Nominated
Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Nominated
Best Score Nick Cave Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role Casey Affleck Nominated
Southeastern Film Critics Top Ten Films of the Year - 7th
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Best Picture - Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Casey Affleck Won
Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Won
Best Score Nick Cave
Warren Ellis
Nominated
Utah Film Critics Association Top Ten Films of the Year - Nominated
Best Actor Casey Affleck Nominated
Vancouver Film Critics Best Supporting Actor Casey Affleck Nominated
Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Andrew Dominik Nominated
Volpi Cup for Best Actor Brad Pitt Won
Western Writers of America Best Western Drama Andrew Dominik Won

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Two Sams join Brad Pitt’s movie cast". Calgary Sun. 2005-08-31. Retrieved 2007-05-09. 
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  4. ^ "Trivia: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)". IMDb.com, Inc. IMDb.com. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
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  14. ^ a b c "Q&A with Roger Deakins", AC Magazine, October 2007
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  45. ^ "Empire: Features". Empire. Retrieved 2009-09-13. 

External links[edit]