The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a 2007 Western film directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, and Sam Rockwell. The film revisits the story of the gang leader Jesse James and his murder, committed by his friend and gang member Bob Ford for a reward. Besides the biographical narrative that forms the foundation of the plot, the film also explores themes such as authority and mental illness, which contributes to the depth of the story.
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The film begins with a train robbery committed by Jesse and his gang, including his older brother Frank James. Bob Ford is the younger brother of Charlie, who wants to be part of the gang, first asking Frank and then Jesse to accept him. Despite not allowing him to be part of the train robbery, Jesse likes Bob and invites him to stay at his house for a few days while the rest of the gang are away at a safe house. After meeting the others at the safe house, Bob finds out that Dick and some other gang members are plotting to kill Jesse for a reward. At the same time, Jesse visits Miller, who acts suspiciously, and Jesse figures out the plot against him.
Meanwhile, back at Bolton’s house, a conflict between Dick and Wood, Jesse’s cousin, results in Bob killing Wood and hiding his body. Seeking a deal with law enforcement, Bob then decides to turn in Dick. He is offered a reward and a full pardon for his crimes in return for killing Jesse. Unaware of this plot, Jesse invites Charley and Bob to help him with a bank robbery. Bob shoots Jesse in the back and becomes famous, traveling across the country and performing the killing on stage. After a year, Charlie commits suicide; Bob lives for ten more years but is then shot at his salon in revenge for the murder of Jesse.
Jesse’s authority is evident from the beginning of the film. He has a significant influence on every person that surrounds him. However, the film also suggests that such authority was earned through fear and violence. Jesse is portrayed as a cold-blooded man who is not afraid to eliminate anyone who poses a threat to him. This is particularly evident in the scene where Jesse visits Miller and kills him on suspicion of treachery. The scene also highlights another aspect of Jesse’s character that gives him power and authority – knowledge of the people that work with him. He is able to interpret Miller’s nervousness correctly, thus eliminating a threat to his life.
Both of the main characters show signs of mental illness throughout the film. While Jesse struggles with paranoia and fits of anger from the beginning of the film, he also develops depression towards the end of the story. His behavior in the scene of his death makes the audience wonder if he allowed Bob to kill him in order to escape from the thoughts that were haunting him. Indeed, given Jesse’s knowledge of people, it seems impossible that he could not predict the assassination.
Bob, on the other hand, shows signs of a personality disorder as he tries desperately to be like Jesse in his childish attempts to mimic Jesse’s behavior. As the film goes on, Bob’s obsession becomes more and more prominent. He wants to be better than Jesse and struggles when he cannot surpass the leader. It is possible that the final reason that drove Bob to kill Jesse was his desire to outsmart Jesse.
Overall, the film offers a darker and more realistic perspective on the traditional Western plots than earlier films of this genre. Although it is filled with events, the main aspect of the work seems to be psychological. In this movie, the director explores the consequences of the portrayed lifestyle for the person’s mental health and personal life, which contributes to the depth of the work.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Directed by Andrew Dominik, performances by Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, and Sam Rockwell, Plan B Entertainment, 2007.