The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford ★★★★★

One might think that spelling out the ending of a film in it's title is a bad idea from whichever point you might look at it. But in the case of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford this serves a purpose. It removes the intrigue of the ending out of the equation and replaces it with pure character study. This is a story about how hero worship turns into lust, which in turn results in envy and resentment.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford should in no way be seen while expecting a historically accurate biopic of the titular hero, or an old-fashioned romp through the 19th century Midwest with guns blazing. We are quickly introduced to the titular characters and it is clear from the outset how the story will end - it might be even said the characters themselves know the inevitability of their final encounter. The legendary Jesse James slowly disintegrates as he slowly succumbs to paranoia, while his youngest protégée becomes disillusioned with the outlaw romance he once dreamed of. The relationship between them is played out with wonderful psychological insight, it invokes a feeling of understanding for each of their motivations. In an ironic twist - the "coward" who kills Jesse may be the only character on screen with a clear purpose, he is not afraid to go with his gut feeling.

On a technical level the film is wonderfully shot, especially concerning the wilderness. Andrew Dominik knows how to film a location, he gives the landscape a narrative quality - the only other filmmaker capable of doing this with such skill is of course Terence Malick. Malick is the one influence that comes in mind the most often in the course of the viewing, and that just further boosts the quality of this well made film. If the direction of the film is not your cup of tea, the cinematography by Roger Deakins alone is worth the price of a blu-ray disc.

I truly have no explanation why this film isn't regarded a modern classic. Maybe one of the films characters was right in saying that "poetry is lost on whores." And what we see on screen here is exactly that - a visual representation of poetic justice.