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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (DVD, 2008) Reviews
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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (DVD, 2008)

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The Assassination of Jesse James: ... Yada Yada

Sep 16, 2010 (Updated Sep 21, 2010)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Brad Pitt as Jesse James, Scenic photography

Cons:Story, exceeding overlength, whiny portrayal by Affleck

The Bottom Line: Not much of interest in this revision of the many times retold tale of the death of outlaw Jesse James. Go ahead and miss it.


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Beginning with the convoluted title, not to mention the skewed point of view of Andrew Dominik's movie, I had my doubts that this would shed any new light on the story of Jesse James one of the most famous outlaws in US history. 

My initial thoughts were WHO CARES what the assassin of the famous man thought or aspired to?  Audiences want to see the exploits of the mythological figure, not some side character, let alone a weak-kneed sissy who shot him in the back.  By the time I got to the end of the 160-minute DVD movie I felt my first impressions were right. It was almost a complete waste of time.

The screenplay is based on a novel by Ron Hansen and concerns the last few days of Jesse James' life, punctuated by flashbacks showing some of the exploits that created the legend of Jesse James - the lightning violence that would erupt and, as importantly, the charisma that drew his gang and many subsequent admirers to him. But most of the time it dwells on the hero worshiper, Bob Ford (Casey Affleck).

Whether the novel is worth reading or not, I cannot say - but I suspect not if the movie is any indication of what it contains.  Bob Ford as shown here is a sniveling, whining fanboy who longs to bask in the glory he thinks over-the-hill hero Jesse James enjoys.  James (Brad Pitt) is living incognito under an assumed name with his wife, two children, and the two Ford brothers, Bob and Charlie (Sam Rockwell). Some glory.

Ongoing narration attempts to tie this specious tale into the film noir tradition with the narrator giving the lines in a manner like Walter Winchell in an old episode from The Untouchables.

It established that Jesse and his gang pulled off a train robbery in 1881 with his brother Frank and a few other goons that he could round up, most of the original gang members having already gone off to meet their maker earlier.  Charlie Ford was one of the robbers, but Bob was driven off by Frank James before the festivities commenced. I noticed the creepy Bob Ford character sneaking up on Frank James (Sam Sheppard) who told him to leave several times and then finally drove him off at gunpoint. The rest of the movie showed similar nonacceptance of Bob by most characters other than a few lower rung types and the friendship extended to him by Jesse (Brad Pitt) was puzzling. I could see no rational basis for it and think that was a weakness in the story as well.

Although I can sympathize with the idea that hero worship has gone too far - especially with our focus today on celebrity culture -and believe a good story could be made of debunking some celebrity or another  - but this is not it.  

Jesse James
has certainly gotten more than his 15 minutes of fame for about 130 years, now, and it doesn't seem to be waning yet.  But the movie we have to endure is overlong and exceedingly dismal in knocking our chosen celebrity down to size. Brad Pitt does seem to relish the part of acting crazy and lashing out with sudden violence sometimes against members of his own gang and especially in a couple of characters who have tolerated Bob, like his brother Charlie and a few other nobodies.

When the movie finally works around to the end or where we think it should end - we then have to endure another 15 minutes or half hour of Bob Ford reenacting the event on the silver stage and drinking his liver sodden trying to convince himself he is not a coward. His end is also predictable.

The Warner Bros DVD is full of 160 minutes of beautiful 2.35:1 color imagery and that is the best part of the film experience but as far as the story - it was a clear miss.  Brad Pitt and a few minor characters portrayed their characters well but the central character of Bob Ford was not interesting enough to carry the picture. I was amazed to learn that Casey Affleck won a couple awards for the simpering weasel he played.


Recommend this product? No

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