Heroes of the Zeroes: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films from 2000 to 2009.
“The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford”
“A vague longing for glory.”
Of all the beguiling phrases in Hugh Ross’s elegantly omniscient narration, that jumped out in 2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”
In writer-director Andrew Dominik’s languid 2007 Western, certain scenes blurred all but the center of focus — an embodiment of fame, admiration or legacy. It’s a kaleidoscope’s prismatic tunnel vision on the Old West. Shake the toy and glance through it again, though, and you could as easily yield a vision of our world in 2010.
The turned worm of celebrity obsession is a persistent plight, evidenced in this immaculately conceived, perfectly cast epic about the downfall of robber Jesse James.
Beginning at the end of James’ career, “Coward” patiently and meditatively observes an outlaw’s obsolescence much as “Public Enemies” did for John Dillinger. Watch the lights fade in Brad Pitt’s eyes as James compares the monster he is to the idol portrayed.
Also like Dillinger, there’s the sense James saw his maker coming all along — Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), skeevy, shifty-eyed and obsessed with perhaps replacing James in his own gang.
Ably playing a dozen years his junior in an Oscar-nominated performance, Affleck embodies a chameleonic, dangerous interloper with the same disquieting skill and sense of entitlement as Matt Damon in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”
Examining the transient nature of memories and mythmaking, “Coward” understands there are as many crooked legacies in high definition, as there were 130 years ago in dog-eared dime-store paperbacks and ghoulish stage productions.