Publisher's note: As redundant as a pacing lost soul, I am loathe to admit, Wyatt is probably our most read writer. Over a month ago, March 12, 2012, I was perusing our sister publication, Better Angels Now, and I noticed that so many of Wyatt's reviews, of the many fine films that occupy the public's interest, have not been availed to our readers through our Beaufort County Now publication.
Consequently, over the next many weeks, we will endeavor to remedy this mild injustice by publishing these reviews, in our current improved format, for your edification. Here below is our thirteenth in a series of these older articles of interest by our good friend, Wyatt Sanderman Day.
Folk Hero, Bandit, Charismatic Leader and Sadistic Sociopath, Andrew Dominik's Jesse James is the Complex Antihero in a Death Spiral.
"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" gives us a slow, drawn look at his last days as a paranoid sociopath and the aftermath that rewarded his place in history as a folk hero. Writer and Director Andrew Dominik proposes that Jesse James's life was a hard scrabble existence that led to his demise, when his moods swung from despondency to "gregarious" leader of a ragtag gang "country rubes."
Brad Pitt does an admirable job of fleshing out a version of Jesse James as the complex former Missouri Bushwhacker in the Civil War to the thieving antihero who never took an Oath of Allegiance to return as a United States citizen, but instead continued to wage war against banks and railways (mostly in northern states).
Casey Afleck as "the coward Robert Ford" found the proper tenor as he gave a solid performance as a 19 year old, trying to find himself as the misunderstood youngest Ford brother, begging for acceptance from the greatest celebrities in the region and some of the most infamous of the era: the James Brothers, and in particular Jesse. Casey Afleck personified the devoted stalker: feigning praise with the pathological devotion to an ideal he found didn't exist. This 160 minute film was not only an expose of the total degradation of Jesse James's ego, but also the unraveling of the lives that were so intertwined that they could not avoid the total disintegration of their own sad characters. One wondered at the end of this film: just who is the victim here - was it the legendary Jesse James or the "coward" Robert Ford?
"The Assassination of Jesse James" was a Greek tragedy western style... or was it southern style, and almost nobody makes it out alive. Andrew Dominick's Jesse James is an unsympathetic sadistic character, and yet was the charismatic leader of men. Robert Ford was the creepy admirer of the pulp fiction version of the James Brothers, and regardless, one sympathizes with his sad devotion - like a misguided young rock 'n' groupie. The movie was a complex examination of a harsh and unsympathetic world just delivered from a civil war that tore the fabric of America as well as many families to shreds. The James and the Ford families would not be delivered and this film is an ode to that great tragedy.
The film is not perfect, but it does work because of the fine acting, realistic period music, the brilliant and moody cinematography and the story never so truthfully told about the last days of Jesse James. I may be a sucker for southern westerns but I found a hearty 3 1/2 stars for this movie.
Rated R. Released on DVD February 5, 2008.
This post appears courtesy of our sister site, Beaufort County NOW, with their expressed permission.