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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

2007 film by Andrew Dominik

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a 2007 film about Robert Ford, who idolized Jesse James since childhood, and tries hard to join the reforming gang of the Missouri outlaw, but gradually becomes resentful of the bandit leader.

Directed and written by Andrew Dominik, based on the 1983 novel by Ron Hansen.
Beyond the myth lies America's greatest betrayal.

NarratorEdit

  • He was growing into middle age, and was living then in a bungalow on Woodland Avenue. He installed himself in a rocking chair and smoked a cigar down in the evenings as his wife wiped her pink hands on an apron and reported happily on their two children. His children knew his legs, the sting of his mustache against their cheeks. They didn't know how their father made his living, or why they so often moved. They didn't even know their father's name. He was listed in the city directory as Thomas Howard. And he went everywhere unrecognized and lunched with Kansas City shopkeepers and merchants, calling himself a cattleman or a commodities investor, someone rich and leisured who had the common touch. He had two incompletely healed bullet holes in his chest and another in his thigh. He was missing the nub of his left middle finger and was cautious, lest that mutilation be seen. He also had a condition that was referred to as "granulated eyelids" and it caused him to blink more than usual as if he found creation slightly more than he could accept. Rooms seemed hotter when he was in them. Rains fell straighter. Clocks slowed. Sounds were amplified. He considered himself a Southern loyalist and guerrilla in a Civil War that never ended. He regretted neither his robberies, nor the seventeen murders that he laid claim to. He had seen another summer under in Kansas City, Missouri and on September 5 in the year 1881, he was thirty-four-years-old.
  • And so it went, Jesse was increasingly cavalier. Merry, moody, fey, unpredictable. He camouflaged his depressions and derangements with masquerades of extreme cordiality, courtesy, and goodwill towards others. But even as he jested or tickled his boy in the ribs, Jesse would look over at Bob with melancholy eyes as if the two were meshed in an intimate communication. Bob was certain that the man had unriddled him; had seen through his reasons for coming along; that Jesse could forecast each of Bob's possible moves and inclinations and was only acting the innocent in order to lull Bob into a stupid tranquility and miscalculation.
  • By his own approximation, Bob assassinated Jesse James over 800 times. He suspected no one in history had ever so often or so publicly recapitulated an act of betrayal.
  • The day before he died was Palm Sunday. And Mr. and Mrs. Howard, their two children and their cousin Charles Johnson strolled to the second Presbyterian Church to attend the 10:00 service. Bob remained at the cottage and slyly migrated from room to room. He walked into the Master bedroom and inventoried the clothes on the hangers and hooks. He sipped from the water glass on the vanity. He smelled the talcum and lilacs on Jesse's pillowcase. His fingers skittered over his ribs to construe the scars where Jesse was twice shot. He manufactured a middle finger that was missing the top two knuckles. He imagined himself at 34. He imagined himself in a coffin. He considered possibilities and everything wonderful that could come true.
  • Bob always challenged the allegations of cowardice, but Charley seemed to agree with them. He spoke of Mrs. Zee James as certain priests might the Madonna, and composed long soul-describing letters to her, begging her forgiveness; none of which he mailed. [Charley shoots himself in the heart] Charley Ford became all that his countrymen wanted an assassin of Jesse James to be.
  • He was ashamed of his persiflage, his boasting, his pretensions of courage and ruthlessness; he was sorry about his cold-bloodedness, his dispassion, his inability to express what he now believed was the case- that he truly regretted killing Jesse, that he missed the man as much as anybody and wished his murder hadn't been necessary. Even as he circulated his saloon he knew that the smiles disappeared when he passed by. He received so many menacing letters that he could read them without any reaction except curiosity. He kept to his apartment all day, flipping over playing cards, looking at his destiny in every King and Jack. Edward O'Kelly came up from Bachelor at one P.M. on the 8th. He had no grand scheme. No strategy. No agreement with higher authorities. Nothing but a vague longing for glory, and a generalized wish for revenge against Robert Ford. Edward O'Kelly would be ordered to serve a life sentence in the Colorado Penitentiary for second degree murder. Over seven thousand signatures would eventually be gathered in a petition asking for O'Kelly's release, and in 1902, Governor James B. Ullman would pardon the man. There would be no eulogies for Bob, no photographs of his body would be sold in sundries stores, no people would crowd the streets in the rain to see his funeral cortege, no biographies would be written about him, no children named after him, no one would ever pay twenty-five cents to stand in the rooms he grew up in. The shotgun would ignite, and Ella Mae would scream, but Robert Ford would only lay on the floor and look at the ceiling, the light going out of his eyes before he could find the right words.

Robert FordEdit

  • [to Frank James] Folks sometimes take me for a nincompoop on account of the shabby first impression I make, whereas I've always thought of myself as being just a rung down from the James Brothers. And I was hoping if I ran into you aside from those peckerwoods, I was hoping I could show you how special I am. I honestly believe I'm destined for great things, Mr. James. I've got qualities that don't come shining through right at the outset, but give me a chance and I'll get the job done- I can guarantee you that.
  • I've been a nobody all my life. I was the baby; I was the one they made promises to that they never kept. And ever since I can recall it, Jesse James has been as big as a tree. I'm prepared for this, Jim. And I'm going to accomplish it. I know I won't get but this one opportunity and you can bet your life I'm not going to spoil it.

DialogueEdit

Governor Crittenden: Jesse James sent me a telegram last month, saying he was going to kill me if he had to wreck a train to do it. He said that once I was in his hands he was going to cut my heart out and eat it in strips like it was bacon. [pause] I'm going to wreck his train first.
Robert Ford: [scoffs, Crittenden glares at him] I'm sorry, Your Excellency. I was thinking of something else.
Governor Crittenden: Jesse James is nothing more than a public outlaw who's made his reputation by stealing whatever he could and by killing whoever got in his way. You'll hear some fools say he's getting back at Republicans and Union men for wrongs his family suffered during the war, but his victims have scarcely ever been selected with reference to their political views. I'm saying his sins will soon find him out. I'm saying his cup of iniquity is full. I'm saying Jesse James is a desperate case and may require a desperate remedy.

Ed Miller: I was with a girl once. Wasn't a squaw, but she was purty. She had yellow hair, like uh... oh, like something.
Dick Liddil: Like hair bobbed from a ray of sunlight?
Ed Miller: Yeah, yeah. Like that. Boy, you talk good.
Dick Liddil: You can hide things in vocabulary.
Ed Miller: Maybe you and me could write her a note, send it by post?
Dick Liddil: See, all you gotta do, Ed, is predict her needs and beat her to the punch.
Ed Miller: Well, this girl, she had a real specific job.
Dick Liddil: Specific?
Ed Miller: We's only together once. She's afraid of lightning. She came up into the wagon and just cuddled right up to me. She gave me a kind price, too.
Dick Liddil: Well I'll be! That is specific.
Ed Miller: Yeah, sure, she been with other people. But the kinds of things she said to me, people just don't say unless they really mean it.
Dick Liddil: "My love said she would marry only me, and Jove himself could not make her care, for what women say to lovers, you'll agree, one writes on running water, or on air."
Ed Miller: My God that's good. Let's write her that.
Dick Liddil: Naw. Poetry don't work on whores.

Jesse James: You ever count the stars? I can't ever get the same number, they keep changin' on me.
Ed Miller: I don't even know what a star is, exactly...
Jesse James: Well, your body knows, it's your mind that forgot.

Jesse James: [Bob walks in on Jesse in the bath] Go away.
Robert Ford: Used to be nobody could sneak up on Jesse James.
Jesse James: Now you think otherwise?
Robert Ford: I ain't never seen you without your guns, neither.
[Jesse removes a towel, revealing his gun]
Jesse James: [pause] Can't figure it out: do you want to be like me or do you want to BE me?
Robert Ford: [defeated] I'm just making fun is all.

Robert Ford: They gave me ten days.
Charley Ford: For what?
Robert Ford: Arresting him.
Charley Ford: You and me, huh?
Robert Ford: It's going to happen one way or another. It's going to happen, Charley, and it might as well be us who get rich on it.
Charley Ford: Bob, he's our friend.
Robert Ford: He murdered Ed Miller. He's going to murder Liddil and Cummins if the chance ever comes. Seems to me Jesse's riding from man to man, saying goodbye to the gang. Your friendship could put you under the pansies.
Charley Ford: I'll grind it fine in my mind, Bob. I can't go any further than that, right now.
Robert Ford: You'll come around.
Charley Ford: You think it's all made up don't ya? You think it's all yarns and newspaper stories.
Robert Ford: He's just a human being.

Jesse James: You know I'm real comfortable with your brother. Hell, he's ugly as sin and he smells like a skunk and he's so ignorant he couldn't drive nails in the snow, but he's sort of easy to be around. I can't say the same for you, Bob.
Robert Ford: I'm sorry to hear you say that.
Jesse James: [pause] You know how it is when you're with your girlfriend and the moon is out and you know she wants to be kissed even though she never said so?
Robert Ford: Yeah.
Jesse James: You're giving me signs that grieve my soul and make me wonder if maybe your mind's been changed about me.
Robert Ford: What do you want me to do? Swear my good faith on the Bible?

Jesse James: [Jesse has given Bob a gun as a gift] You know what John Newman Edwards once wrote about me? He said I didn't trust two men in ten thousand and was even cautious around them. The government's sort of run me ragged. I'm going the long way around the barn to say I've been feeling cornered and just plain ornery of late and I'd be pleased if you'd accept the gun as my way of apologizing.
Robert Ford: Heaven knows I'd be ornerier if I were in your position.
Jesse James: No. I haven't been acting correctly. I can't hardly recognize myself sometimes when I'm greased. I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who's gone so wrong. I've been becoming a problem to myself.

Dorothy Evans: Why did you kill him?
Robert Ford: Well, he was gonna kill me.
Dorothy Evans: So you were scared and that's the only reason?
Robert Ford: Yeah. And the reward money.
[long pause]
Dorothy Evans: Do you want me to change the subject?
Robert Ford: You know what I expected? Applause. [laughs to himself] I was only 20 years old then. I couldn't see how it would look to people. I was surprised by what happened. They didn't applaud.

CastEdit

External linksEdit