The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

WESTERN; 2hr 40min

STARRING: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck

Conflicted: from left, Affleck and Pitt

In 1881, outlaw Jesse James (Pitt) was 34, married with kids and living in Missouri. Revered by the masses as a hero, the former Confederate soldier had killed 17 people and, with his gang, committed 25-plus robberies. Based on Ron Hansen’s 1983 novel, Chopper writer-director Andrew Dominik’s probing drama begins with James, his brother Frank (Sam Shepard) and a ragtag crew robbing a train. Nineteen-year-old Robert Ford (Affleck, uncomfortably credible) makes his thieving debut that night.


Ford’s admiration of James, whom he will come to deeply resent, is creepily Uriah Heep–ish. But as interpreted by Pitt, James is a conflicted man, tormented by physical ailments, extremes of mood, and the motives of those who might seek to betray him. Dominik’s accounting of the outlaw’s duplicitous, unsettled life is as imposing as a funeral march, with all its doomed and weighty beauty. That treachery is a currency for men who routinely kill and steal isn’t revolutionary. But when corrupted by weakness and envy, as Dominik posits happened with Bob Ford, adulation becomes its own kind of ruthlessness.