Plot spoiler

December 31, 2008

Last night I watched “The assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”. Now there’s a plot spoiler for you. It’s like calling some other films “Big Ship Hits Iceberg and Sinks”, or “Tom Cruise Tries but Fails to Kill Hitler”, or “Yes! He Was a Ghost All Along”; instead of “Titanic“, “Valkyrie” and “The Passion of the Christ”. Ok, I cheated with that last one but I didn’t want to mess up “The Sixth Sense” for those who haven’t seen it.

Except, in the case of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”, maybe all isn’t as it seems.

jesse-james1 That’s the real Jesse James on the left. The one lying down. In a coffin. Dead. After he’d been shot by the “coward” Robert Ford. I pinched the pic from the Encyclopedia Britannia. Find their Jesse James stuff here.

“The assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” was written and directed by Andrew Dominik and I’m thinking I need to watch out for this guy, in a Paul Thomas Anderson kind of way.

(Little aside; I’m scared by how good Paul Thomas Anderson is, writing and directing Magnolia at the age of 29… that’s knowing things no 29 year old should know).

Now, Mr. Dominik is older and he’s only made two films; this and “Chopper”. (I find out all these things after the fact; I’m just a film fan with access to Wikipedia). So then it clicks, sort of, because years back I saw “Chopper” and it had an affect. If there is a link between these two films, and I am reaching far back in time and memory here, it is that they both took iconic figures and did a bit of a job on them. Maybe Mr. Dominik, with his mildly sinister spelling, is a bit of an iconoclast.

I don’t know the story of Jesse James and I don’t know if the truth matters to appreciate this film. Here’s a simple approach to that plot spoiler of a title, and making it not so much of a plot spoiler as you might think; Robert Ford isn’t a coward. He’s sweet, he’s troubled, he’s young, he awes, he’s bullied, he creeps. He’s a mess of a 20 year old who worships every inch of a very unlikeable Jesse James. And the Jesse James we see… shooting people in the back, mentally and physically torturing the young, and then crying over every part of himself that he knows is wrong… is played by Brad Pitt. That’s brave casting. I’ve not seen every Brad Pitt film, but I know his iconic status. I know his Tyler Durden, his Benjamin Button, his J.D, his Floyd, his David Mills, his Jeffrey Goines, his Joe Black, his Rusty Ryan… even his Achilles… and if you recognise some of these parts, you also know how rarely he plays a heel (Oh, I am so sorry.)

But it’s true; all men may not want to be Brad Pitt, but I bet they would like to be the parts he’s played. And so Jesse James is a problem. A “hero” of the Old West who… well…

And the assassination? Technically, true. But Jesse needed to die. He’d had it. He’d had enough. You may despise him in the film, and you may be confused because “that’s Brad Pitt.” But looks at those eyes; not only does Jesse despise himself, but even Brad seems to despise having to play him. Eyes, windows, souls, blah blah blah, but I challenge you to watch this film and not see it to be a truth.

This is a long film. And maybe when words (let alone film titles) become unreliable, you need long looks to tell the story. Early on in the film Dick Liddel, the poetically inclined womanising member of the James’ gang, observes that “you can hide things in vocabulary.” And late on in the film when the the “assassination” comes the narrator talks of Jesse’s final moments thus; “the light going out of his eyes before he could find the right words”.

A long film. A leisurely film. A long goodbye. And beautifully shot by Coen Brothers regular Roger Deakins (without realising this connection, my mum likened the look of the film to Fargo). Epic landscapes; interior and exterior.

If you like long films where you know the ending, but you hated Titanic, then this is the film for you.

Oh, and in keeping with a theme of the film, a motif, I’ve unwittingly let Casey Affleck go unmentioned. He played the coward. He played Robert Ford. Again, watch those eyes work. Or not work. There’s no big acting here, but there is time on the side of the actors, time to look in as they look out. And he’s an Affleck who can act.

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7 Responses to “Plot spoiler”

  1. Andrea said

    great post.

    I have no strong opinion of Pitt The Actor (as opposed to Pitt The Younger) either way, not having seen him in much, but I do remember how great he was in Twelve Monkeys.

    I saw Casey Affleck (with Matt Damon) in the West End several years ago. and while I don’t remember much about the play – This Is Our Youth – I do remember that Affleck was phenomenal. Isn’t he supposed to be great in Gone Baby Gone, too?

  2. Simon Hickson said

    I haven’t seen Gone Baby Gone but yes, have heard that it is worth seeing. And it is directed by his brother Ben, AKA “Ham” Affleck (courtesy of Kevin Smith). So there’s the secret; one acts, one directs.

    See more Pitt! His best work is with David Fincher; Seven, Fight Club, the Curious Case of Benjamin Button.And I’m a huge fan of the ridiculously long “Meet Joe Black”.

  3. J.O'Dell said

    I’m submitting this because I’m sure it’s never been mentioned, and I’ve never seen a C. Affleck role, I think he gave an oscar worthy performance. I’ve seen the movie twice, and he was brilliant.

  4. Isobel said

    The title isn’t a spoiler. If you didn’t know Jesse James was killed by Robert Ford, take a history class. Of course, this film is based on the assassination and the story behind it, so I will admit having previous knowledge on the subject helped me to appreciate the film even more.
    As for referring it to an assassination: for a very long time, Robert Ford was seen as a hero for killing Jesse James, but later people altered their view, seeing it as more of a bad deed. No one for sure knows if Jesse really wanted to die or not.
    Also, the 2 hour wait for the actual assassination scene was well worth it (for me, at least). In my opinion (note: just my opinion) the scene was flawless.
    But I agree; Casey Affleck was superb.
    Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the film, but I suggest reading up a bit on the subject first. I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much if I hadn’t.

  5. Simon Hickson said

    Hi Isobel. Thanks for your comment. There are jokes in my film reviews. And this is a film, and should be senn and understood firstly as such. Nevertheless, I think, reading between all lines, we both liked the film.

  6. Bob said

    Dude, your statement is all wrong. when you say “And late on in the film when the the “assassination” comes the narrator talks of Jesse’s final moments thus; “the light going out of his eyes before he could find the right words”. thats not when jesse gets shot, its when bob gets shot..if you are going to moan about a brilliant movie at least get your facts right. i dont think you watched the film!

  7. Simon Hickson said

    Sorry I got a detail wrong. Hopefully, at some point, I will see the film for a second time. I didn’t think I was moaning at all. I loved the film. Shame if that doesn’t come across. I assure you, I did watch it… dude.

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