The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Australian writer-director Andrew Dominik (Chopper) made his astonishingly individual US debut with his intensely poetic take on the last months of the infamous American outlaw.

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“A poetic masterpiece... This definitive treatment of the legendary event of the title pivots on a hero-worship and paranoia that are entirely appropriate to our present era.”
Jim Kitses, Sight & Sound, December 2007

Boldly giving away the outcome in the title, writer-director Andrew Dominik’s western concentrates instead on poetic period recreation and intense psychology in a series of haunting episodes framed by narration from Ron Hansen’s source novel.

Brad Pitt reinvents the famous outlaw as a paranoid psychopath, but it’s the Oscar-nominated Casey Affleck who dominates with his simultaneously creepy and hearbreaking performance as Bob Ford, the bright-eyed young wannabe with “an appetite for greater things” whose hero worship turns homicidal.

The oil-lamp glow of Roger Deakins’s cinematography and the ethereal piano-and-viola score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis enhance a brooding atmosphere of fatalism, offset by scenes of salty male banter and dreamlike set pieces such as the night-time train robbery in a forest.

Other screen incarnations of the outlaw include Tyrone Power in Jesse James (1939), Robert Duvall in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972) and Colin Farrell in American Outlaws (2001).

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