Australian director Andrew Dominik seems to know a thing or two about the lives of and the mythology behind criminals. His debut 'Chopper' was about a self-delusional thug who wrote hyperbolic stories about himself. Dominik's second film, the aptly titled 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford', cuts down on the hyperbole behind an icon of the Wild West, who lived and died a legend for his exploits and whose killer was branded a coward for bringing him down after having admired him from a distance for so long.
Even though Brad Pitt won the best actor award at Venice this year for his portrayal of the intermittently violent, sometimes paranoid Jesse James, the real star of the film is Casey Affleck as Ben Ford. The transformation he manages to go through in the span of the film – giddy in the presence of James at first; conflicted and ambivalent towards the end when he has to inevitably pull the trigger, Affleck exhibits creepiness and an earnest likeability all at the same time. Like a rejected, resentful stalker, Ford begins to suffocate in the presence of his idol because he is unable to find the esteem he thinks he deserves. Reverence soon makes way for contempt and things begin to worsen between them. The film might have been better had it been entirely the story of Robert Ford, the coward, the idol worshipper, the proud nobody.
The film is as overlong as its title. It is also a tad bit indulgent and the casting of a celebrity actor like Pitt as Jesse James and an almost unknown like Affleck as his wannabe Robert Ford does provide some eerie similarities to reality. If the film seems to sometimes stop and get a little lost in the trails and fallouts of the James brother with the Ford brothers (and also their wives, cousins etc) then in the final analysis, all of these stories are not without purpose, even if while being viewed they make us lose focus because of this very large canvas. The music by Nick Cave and the sublime cinematography by Roger Deakins (a favourite of the Coen's) add towards making the overall viewing an otherwise ethereal experience, despite the flaws that riddle it. - Faizan Rashid