The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford


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Rating: R

Brad Pitt as Jesse James
Mary-Louise Parker as Zee James
Brooklynn Proulx as Mary James
Dustin Bollinger as Tim James
Casey Affleck as Robert Ford
Sam Rockwell as Charley Ford
Jeremy Renner as Wood Hite
Sam Shepard as Frank James
Garret Dillahunt as Ed Miller
Paul Schneider as Dick Liddil

Special Features:

Other Info:
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
French and Spanish Language
French and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 160 Minutes

The following is from the DVD cover:

“Everyone in 1880s America knows Jesse James. He’s the nation’s most notorious criminal, hunted by the law in 10 states. He’s also the land’s greatest hero, lauded as a Robin Hood by the public. Robert Ford? No one knows him. Not yet. But the ambitious 19-year-old aims to change that. He’ll befriend Jesse, ride with his gang. And if that doesn’t bring Ford fame, he’ll find a deadlier way.

Friendship becomes rivalry and the quest for fame becomes obsession in this virile epic produced in part by Ridley Scott and featuring gripping portrayals by Brad Pitt (winner of the Venice Film Festival Best Actor Award) as Jesse and Casey Affleck as the youth drawn closer to his goal and farther from his own humanity.”

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is rated R for strong violence and brief sexual references.

I made the mistake of watching “3:10 to Yuma” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” back to back. I was in the mood for a Western and these films looked to fit the bill. Unfortunately for this movie, I thoroughly enjoyed “3:10 to Yuma” and it brought to light all the flaws of “Jesse James.”

My first problem with this film was the dialogue. While the dialogue in “3:10 to Yuma” felt somewhat realistic and genuine, the dialogue of “Jesse James” was dark and felt like some exaggerated depiction of what a Hollywood screenwriter thought people back then should talk like. It was filled with profanity and discussions that didn’t feel right for the time. Also, being from Texas, few things bother me more than an actor doing a fake Southern accent. While Christian Bale pulled it off, Brad Pitt’s accent just didn’t work for me at all. “Jesse James” also portrays the characters like backwater deviants. As one character lays dying from a gunshot wound on the floor, gasping his final breaths, the homeowner and his wife simply walk up and say, “Whelp, goodbye.” As if they’re leaving for a vacation. It was so absurdly callous, even for these outlaws and murderers, that it turned me off.

While I didn’t care for Brad Pitt’s performance (and I usually like him in his other roles), Casey Affleck does make a rather extraordinary transformation in order to play Robert Ford. He’s the ultimate groupie who is meek, star struck, and in awe of James. His eventual transformation into his hero’s killer is believable and impressive.

One other gripe of mine was the running time of this film. At 2 and a half hours, it seemed a lot longer. The story is slow and plodding and probably could have used an hour shaved off of it. There are a lot of scenes where the camera seems to linger forever on gloomy imagery, and that contributes to the slow pacing (even though the cinematography is impressive).

If you’re into Westerns, you still might want to avoid this film because it’s not your typical Western. The slow pacing and emphasis on character drama probably means the only people that will enjoy this are those in the art cinema crowd. Everyone else should probably watch “3:10 to Yuma” instead.

For whatever reason, there are no bonus features included on this DVD. Either nobody wanted to talk about the problem-plagued film or they’re saving that material for some special edition down the road.