Home > Film, Reviews > Film Review: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

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

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007; Directed by Andrew Dominik)


Why can't he just buy a ticket like everyone else?

Andrew Dominik’s langorous psychological Western sometimes begs for a defibrillator, but there’s sufficient talent here to make the material sing often enough.  Shot on the Canadian Prairies with loving visual glory by cinematographical demigod Roger Deakins, The Assassination depends largely on the thespianic muscle of its leads, Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck, and both of them sell the film’s endless digressions into emotion and consciousness as well as its punctuating bursts of violence. Pitt’s Jesse James is a swaggering personification of the dark id of the American frontier, impulsive but deliberate, always restlessly in motion. Affleck’s widely-praised performance is the superior one, as he modulates Bob Ford’s fidgety desperation to be liked with calculated inner-eye rumination.

The scenes between them are among the film’s best; Pitt’s a bonafide movie star, but he can sometimes sink into speechless brow-furrowing when confronted with a fellow actor of deeper talents (see his “work” in pivotal scenes opposite Peter O’Toole in Troy or Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds). He clashes and parries with Affleck here, letting his foil and eventual assassin occasional feel like he’s in control before viciously yanking that feeling away. Pitt’s version of Jesse James is one of the great figures of the powerful trickster in recent cinema; like most of the great rogues of the movies, you’re never allowed to be sure if he’s a skilled puppet-master or just completely batshit; in the end, you suspect both.

Still, fine lead performances aside, Dominik’s film is hopelessly long-winded. It has good ideas at its core, but it draws them out all too gradually. Hugh Ross’ narration puts some of the considered prose of Ron Hansen’s novel into the film, but also pushes the proceedings into PBS documentary territory. Ridley Scott’s name pops up in the producer credits, and the influence of his over-meditative epics is highly evident and not entirely welcome. Its too-long title is entirely accurate as a descriptor of the film, but typifies the over-slow approach of the director. A bit more restraint (or, maybe, a bit less) would have been welcome, but there’s plenty of quality filmmaking on display here nonetheless.

Categories: Film, Reviews
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  1. May 3, 2014 at 6:13 pm

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