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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: Almost Too Artsy

As a movie, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is not unlike its title: unusual and poetic but also way too long and somewhat contrived. Though it's not the best Western I've seen all year — that honor goes to 3:10 to Yuma — it is worth watching for the masterful beauty that breaks through the somewhat poorly managed pace.

In case you haven't heard, Jesse James stars Brad Pitt in the title role, and as the West is writing its own mythology, James is nearing the end of his illustrious outlaw career. Increasingly paranoid about the reward on his head, he takes up with a gang of petty thieves, including his future killer, Robert Ford (Casey Affleck).

That we know the ending all along doesn't make the story any less compelling, because what makes this movie better than most is its realistic-yet-surreal atmosphere. For the rest of my take,

Jesse James is visually stunning in a way that pays tribute to the West while looking unlike any Western I've ever seen. Cinematographer Roger Deakins gives the film a stark, isolated feel by flooding it with natural light, and the dreamy realism is enhanced by the dialog. Listening to it feels like eavesdropping, as the actors deliver each line with casually authentic cadence.

Pitt plays well as the brooding, private James, though at times he seems to forget that he's supposed to be telegraphing inner demons. The supporting cast is also stellar, particularly Sam Rockwell as Robert Ford's aw-shucks brother Charlie and Paul Schneider as gang member Dick Liddel. But the movie really belongs to Affleck, who strikes the perfect balance between painfully ordinary and downright creepy as the James-idolizing Ford. (Unfortunately, the women, including Mary-Louise Parker and Zooey Deschanel, are such minor characters that they barely speak.)

But despite its authentic elements, The Assassination of Jesse James is too contrived for its own good. An anonymous narrator offers literary (and very long) voice-overs, but the rest of the movie, in its attempts to be arty, leaves a lot of details out. Why have a narrator tell us about the complexities of the story and the characters' emotions when the film could show us instead?

Frankly, the main problem with this movie is that it's just too long. Around the two-hour mark, even the beauty of each frame ceased to mesmerize me, and as a result, the movie doesn't pack as much emotional impact as it otherwise should. Like Jesse James, the movie suffers from the size of its own ego.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.


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Join The Conversation
Hootie Hootie 7 years
I just watched this movie. It was way to long. The dramatic pauses and stares got old. Brad Pitt was good but the movie was a bust. I was expecting it to be really good so I was dissapointed.
tralalala tralalala 8 years
Buzz, they added the narration because the story wasn't working on its own. that's why it's release date kept getting pushed.
koolbr33z3 koolbr33z3 8 years
I'd like to see this movie but my husband will probably want to boycott this since he thinks I only want to watch it for BP.
Linda-McP Linda-McP 8 years
Great review, Buzz. Another movie that I'll add to my Netflix list.
yyam084 yyam084 8 years
i don't like long movies, it'll get me to sleep!
Zahara-Pitt Zahara-Pitt 8 years
no Angelina is not in the movie
jennybop jennybop 8 years
isn't Angelina in this move too?
kristyrk kristyrk 8 years
I saw this movie in a screening and loved it. It feels like little pieces of a mini-series where each vignette could be its own show woven together by the narrator. The unspoken tension between the characters was palpable and kept me intrigued the whole 2 and some odd hours. I agree with Buzz that the cinematography was amazing and that Casey Affleck stole the movie. However, I thought that Brad portrayed Jesse extremely well, keeping the mystery and realism about him, and not deconstructing the character like most actors do in these types of films. Jesse was known to see right through people's BS and that was obvious in Brad's performance. The film was long, but I've seen longer!!
genvessel genvessel 8 years
I'm intrigued by this one... I'm also intrigued by how much Brad Pitt looks like Colin Ferrell... I feel like I do a double take each time I see a promo shoot...
Jinx Jinx 8 years
I know it stars Brad Pitt and all, but I could care less about the story of Jesse James. I may still watch it if it comes on television or something, but I won't pay for it. And I think they could have made the title, *just* a little longer... :rotfl:
Gia Gia 8 years
i'd like to watch this movie
Zahara-Pitt Zahara-Pitt 8 years
the movie has received great reviews by rebuttal movie critics...so I'll go see when it starts playing in my area
thehabra thehabra 8 years
Whatever, I'll still see it.I usually don't agree with buzz's reviews anyway
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