"The Assassination of Jesse James..." Excerpt
Josh: I think it does make sense to start at the ending here, with this curious extended coda. How did that work for you, especially in relation to these themes that [listener] Tim [Clobashar] mentioned? This time around, was "The Assassination of Jesse James..." Kempenaar catnip?
Adam: Yeah. Tim knows me very well, apparently. I would say that I was in long before that epilogue, or that coda that we get though. And of course, that myth-versus-reality element that Tim touches on? That's in every frame of this film long before we get to that point. I think I was mostly in because of the direction and because of [Roger] Deakin's cinematography. Listener Adam Grossman, who was the leader of the "Jesse James" cult on Twitter, urging it into Madness, and urging this Sacred Cow review into being, he touched on it in an email he sent us — Michael [Phillips] actually touched on it last week briefly when he was commenting on the movie. The best sequence in this film is that train robbery. I think we can get into the elements of that that really stood out, but I do love everything that happens in this film post-killing of Jesse James, including that Nick Cave performance we get you in the bar, with Bob Ford right there to listen to Nick Cave's version of now this legend. I love that the most Bob can counter with now that he's being portrayed in this song is to point out that the singer got the number of James's children wrong. That one little factual misstep somehow undoes everything else.
Josh: Yeah, as if that would make a difference.
Adam: Right! That dramatization we get onstage, that Tim touched on, is really stunning as well. There's a moment where the narration touches on how they were regarded as actors. It's suggested that Bob is actually thought of as a fairly good actor and that Sam Rockwell, as brother Charley, is a bad actor. But there's actually not a bit of truth in either performance, which is really what every actor is trying to get at. We know that this is all this grand embellishment, but then something changes and that's what I really love – when Charley becomes not only drunker but more disillusioned and more haunted by what they've done. I think it's worth noting here in the grand scheme of things, isn't he actually the bigger coward in this scenario? And is that maybe even some part of the shame in all of this? He's the guy that stood there with the gun drawn. But when the moment called for it, he couldn't do it. He released his brother–
Josh: [Over] He frees his brother–
Adam: [Over] –but he doesn't pull the trigger–
Josh: -doesn't it make the decision.
Adam: –in that moment, but he does become the character Jesse James. He inhabits the man we saw, as played by Brad Pitt. The way he walks, the way he talks, even the script changes — they really unnerve Bob. So there's this suggestion that this whole play only kind of sticks together — and really, in some ways their sanity only sticks together — if both men can continue to buy into this myth that they themselves have created and perform this version of events that ultimately suits them best. And once that's shattered, they really can't go on. I think it's ironic too, if you remember that great line early in the film, where Jesse asks Bob, "Are you trying to be like me, or are you trying to be me?" This is finally Bob's chance to actually impersonate Jesse. Of course he wouldn't do that in this scenario, but he could be the one playing Jesse, and instead, of course, it's his brother doing that. He's going to play the role that he actually had in this scenario even if it is mostly fiction. I do see that as maybe the ultimate sort of proclamation of his identity which he was always trying to get at. He was trying to get at it through Jesse James, attached to that myth, and establish himself. It's also ironic that only in death does he actually become like Jesse. It's only by the very end of the film when we see that the world now has developed this understanding of who he is. They have now their own kind of legend attached to him, and they think they know who he is and what he is. That's no longer at all how he sees himself. In some ways, I think this movie is always dealing with that idea, that Jesse, of course, never sees himself the way the rest of the world does. And when his life is taken, he's assassinated too. We even see it in Affleck's performance a little bit in those closing epilogue scenes — the weariness, that haunted look, the way he even walks through that bar and talks to people seems to resemble the way Jesse spoke to people in some of those flashback scenes. So it's finally there where he does get to take on some kind of the stature, and the character of Jesse. And of course it's only in that fleeting moment, in his death. Which is ultimately the tragedy of the movie, I think on one level.