Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

This movie was a surprise in a low key kind of way. Actually, I was waiting for good old western style shooting; gunfights; cowboys; especially when one of the most popular leading men around, Brad Pitt, is the lead as Jesse James. I wanted action and I wanted to be dazzled. Instead, what I got was a puzzle, skillfully crafted, that I wanted to solve and savor even long after I have finished the movie.

And the puzzle is; who was the bad guy? A strange question if you think about it since the demarcation lines between good and bad are always evident in movies. But strange as it is, it is the only question that came to mind when I finished watching the film.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is all drama; mostly talk, all throughout. Besides being a tale of the final years of the famous outlaw it is also a character sketch of the main protagonists: Jesse James and his killer Robert Ford. And it was one great sketch.

I got the feel of who Jesse James was, or at least what he could have been in his final years: An outlaw, fearless, charismatic, smart, famous, and in more ways than one, crazy.

Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Jesse James was somewhere between fare and good. The only problem in his acting is that he was Brad Pitt; and unfortunately, he will always be such in whatever role he takes. As Jesse James, he got the melancholy and the craziness just right, plus there was a touch of a calculating mind underneath, which seemed to surface as he talked with his men. Perhaps most important was the charisma the outlaw had, and of course Mr. Pitt has a steady supply of that.

Backing up Pitt was a great ensemble of actors, some looking as ignorant and as lacking in hygiene as people of the old west might be. Leading the pack is Casey Affleck (yes he is Ben’s brother) playing the role of James’ assassin, Robert Ford.

Apparently, Ford was a fan of the outlaw and was a one time gang member. Affleck was wimpy, obsessed, and totally lacking in a sense of self worth as his character, Ford, followed the outlaw, hoping to get a touch of ‘greatness’ by being one himself.

So take your pick. Is it the man who got what he wanted, when he wanted? A man who made a name uniquely his own; all the while eliciting both terror and admiration from those who learned of his exploits.

Or, do you want the man who has no life but to follow another. A man who rid the world of a killer but at the same time, killed a friend.

And the bad guy is. . . totally up to you.