Skip to content


Your cart is empty


Get the latest Ink & Cinema articles and showcase announcements. (Be sure to check your email to confirm your subscription.)

Article: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Story Structure/Breakdown)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Story Structure/Breakdown)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Story Structure/Breakdown)

Screenplay written by Andrew Dominik
Based on the novel by Ron Hansen

Point of Attack | Opening Image

The film opens with an image of clouds rolling through the sky, followed by a shot of Jesse James sitting in a rocking chair - setting a somber and reflective tone. A vignette of scenes accompanied by a voiceover from a narrator reveals Jesse's day-to-day life (at the age of 34, living in Missouri) and his inner turmoil.

THEME REVEALED - The theme of hero worship and the fickle nature of fame is hinted at when Robert "Bob" Ford expresses his admiration for Jesse James. Bob’s idolization of Jesse sets the stage for his internal conflict.

SET-UP - Members of the James Gang are introduced - including Jesse's brother Frank, his cousin Wood Hite, Dick Liddil, Ed Miller, and Charley Ford (Bob's brother), as they plan to rob a train. Bob unsuccessfully attempts to join the gang. His awkwardness and yearning for acceptance are evident.

Inciting Incident | Catalyst

The James Gang rob a train at Blue Cut, but the take is minimal, and Jesse's brother Frank quits the gang.

First Turning Point | Plot Point 1 | Call-to-Action (and Debate)

Jesse invites Bob to help him move his belongings to a new residence, giving Bob the opportunity to befriend his hero.

SUCCESS & FAILURE - Bob interacts with his idol. There are moments of camaraderie and tension, as Bob's hero worship is tested by Jesse’s unpredictability. He witnesses Jesse's growing paranoia and erratic behavior. This marks his transition from naive admirer to a more critical and conflicted follower. Gang member Liddil reveals to Bob that he and fellow gang member Jim Cummins plan to capture Jesse for the reward money. Jesse learns of the plot from gang member Ed Miller (who he then kills), and sets off to find Cummins. During his hunt, he violently attacks Albert Ford (Charley and Bob's young cousin).


After Liddil is intimate with Hite's stepmother, Hite attempts to kill Liddil. In the fray, Bob kills Hite, and helps hide his body.

DESCENT - When Jesse comes looking for Liddel, Bob and Charley deny knowing his whereabouts. Jesse discovers Hite is missing, and Charley tells him they haven't seen him. Jesse’s increasing paranoia creates a palpable sense of danger. Bob meets with the Kansas City Police, stating he knows where Jesse is, and gives up Liddil.

Crisis Point | Second Turning Point | Plot Point 2

The Missouri Governor offers Bob a deal: if he can capture or kill Jesse within 10 days, he will receive a substantial monetary reward ($10,000), and a pardon for Hite's murder.

REFLECTION & ENLIGHTENMENT | RUN-UP TO THE CLIMAX - Charley convinces Jesse to invite Bob to join his gang, and the two brothers stay with Jesse and his family while they plan a bank robbery. Jesse’s erratic behavior and mistrust intensify. On the day of the planned bank robbery, Jesse learns from a newspaper that Liddel has been arrested and confessed. There is a sense of impending doom, as Jesse questions the brothers' knowledge of the events. Perhaps haunted by the realization that killing Jesse will destroy his hero along with his own sense of identity, Bob weeps as he prepares for the inevitable betrayal.

Climax | Final Confrontation

Almost as if resigned to his fate, shortly after discovering Liddel's arrest, Jesse removes his gun belt and stands on a chair to dust a picture hanging on the wall - turning his back to Bob and Charley. Bob shoots Jesse in the head and kills him.

Resolution | Denouement | Final Image

In the aftermath of the assassination, Bob lives a life marked by public scorn and personal regret. The Fords never receive the promised reward of $10,000. Re-enacting the shooting in a theatrical production, the audience calls Bob a coward. The once-adoring fan is now a vilified figure, haunted by his actions and the loss of his idol. The film closes with Bob’s assassination, mirroring Jesse’s fate and underscoring the cyclical nature of violence and fame. 

FINAL IMAGE - In a stop image, Bob looks over his shoulder toward his assassin.

Get the Movie: Digital Film (AppleTV)

Get the Book: Digital Book (Apple Books) | Audiobook (Apple Books)