DVD Review: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James…

That’s a long title there…


Starring Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, and Mary Louise-Parker. Directed by Andrew Dominik. Based on the novel by Ron Hansen.


I remember being in film school and having to watch movies that were “classic” or had “masterpiece” subliminally imprinted on every frame. The moment us film students got away from these movies, walking around outside and talking, we didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It’s not to say that those films considered “classic” aren’t; what I’m trying to say is that some films are so high up on an “art” pedestal that you’d get a nosebleed just staring up at them. This is definitely one of those films.


I’m not trying to say that it’s bad or that “art for art’s sake” is bad, either. What I am saying is that this is a difficult movie to watch if your personal Ass-Factor (defined as how long you can stay seated watching a movie) is roughly 30 minutes. If that is the case, this is not a movie for you to watch in just 1 sitting. But, I digress.


The story concerns the title characters Jesse James (Pitt) and Robert Ford (Casey Affleck). James stays in the shadows, moving from place to place and from score to score. Robert Ford comes into play on Jesse’s last train robbery upon insistence from his brother Charley (Sam Rockwell). After the robbery Jesse begins to like Bob and keeps him around. Bob begins to dislike Jesse; he’s not the “same” Jesse James from the pulp novels or sensational news clippings. What follows is Jesse’s systematic madness and depression, enacted by systematically killing the other members of his gang and the “ratting-out” of Jesse by Robert Ford, who will kill him.


What got me most about the movie, aside from it being  l o n g, was the style. First, there’s a narration done by Hugh Ross, and it made me feel like the movie couldn’t decide between being a documentary or just a movie centered around facts and events. Imagine “Unforgiven” with the narration from a random History Channel show being done between scenes. “William Munny knew that he couldn’t stay on the farm too long, not with the pigs slowly getting diseased…” Second, when the narration does occur, the camera lens streaks on the sides with only the center in clear focus; it’s just annoying. Lastly, towards the end of the movie the “gimmick” becomes the “stop frame,” where a scene just “stops” but the image stays on the screen.


On the plus side is the cinematography. If you are a camera or film/video buff, you need to check out this movie as a great example of how to compose scenes. The time-lapse photography was great, as well as all the scene compositions. This was largely due to the DP/Cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has worked on a lot of Coen Bros. movies including “No Country for Old Men,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” “Fargo,” and “Barton Fink.”


History is the only other reason to watch this. Robert Ford is a character of historical significance, although he basically did it for money and glory, both which dried up fairly quickly. Forgoing the usual dramatic structure of “guy who idolizes a hero then becomes the hero’s enemy,” this movie sticks mostly to the facts.


As I’ve stated before, the movie feels long. If you thought any of the LOTR movies lagged, this makes “Return of the King” feel like a 2-hour jaunt. The pace does quicken towards the end which is good if you stop the film at the 1 hour 40-minute point, walk around, and then come back to it.


A second to mention the cameos: Michael Parks, James Carville, Nick Cave, and Zooey Deschanel. So, there ya go.


My grade: B-

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