The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Plot: A young Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) gets his wish and joins Jesse James’ (Brad Pitt) gang. Slowly, Robert begins to resent the legendary outlaw and hatches a plan to kill the man he idolized.

Who’s it for: If you like slow-moving westerns that dive more into character flaws than action, here’s the film you’ve been waiting for your whole life.

Expectations: I knew it was long (over two and a half hours) before I sat down, so mentally I had prepared myself. I’m a huge Brad Pitt fan, and for some reason I keep rooting for Casey Affleck, probably because of “Good Will Hunting” and his line “I think I swallowed a bug.”

SCORECARD

Actors:
Brad Pitt as Jesse James: There is no question Pitt is a great actor. “Fight Club,” “Twelve Monkeys,” and “Se7en” are some of my favorite performances. The problem here is that Jesse James isn’t all that impressive. Pitt does a great job with the material, but it never felt like he was the greatest outlaw the West had ever seen. Some may like this story, and it could be historically accurate, but that doesn’t make it entertaining.
Grade: 7

Casey Affleck as Robert Ford: It’s always hard to appreciate a performance that annoys you (on purpose). Robert is clumsy, hopeful and a backstabber, and Affleck nails the role. He’s like the kid on the playground who got picked on a little too much by his friends.
Grade: 8

Talking: The narrator moves the story along, not the actions on the screen. There are many times when I hoped the actions the narrator was describing were acted out. And there was only one classic line of dialogue offered, which was, “You can hide things in vocabulary.”
Grade: 5

Sights and sounds: The film is beautiful to look at, but a repetitive score doesn’t help capture enough emotion, it just makes you realize it’s repetitive.
Grade: 7

OVERALL
Even though the film looks beautiful and there are some great performances, including Sam Rockwell as Robert’s older brother, there are things that rubbed me the wrong way. It’s like they removed Superman’s cape. Jesse James isn’t shown as a brilliant outlaw, just occasionally violent with some mental issues. So it’s hard to love Brad Pitt’s character even though he acts the part well. There’s just no one to root for in the entire film. Some critics might decide there is a great realism, but I found it boring. Finally, some of the best events are simply narrated, so we don’t get to see them. “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” is a winner … but only for longest title of the year.

Overall Grade: 6

6 Comments

  1. JOHN F EARLY says:

    GROWING UP IN HELENA MONTANA BACK IN THE LATE 1940s/EARLY 1950s, I BECAME VERY INTERESTED IN BAD GUYS EVEN MORE THAN GOOD GUYS. IT WASN’T UNTIL 1955 THAT BOTH DAVY CROCKETT AND WYATT EARP CAME TO TELEVISION, AND I GO INTERESTED IN SOME OF THE GOOD GUYS TOO. JESSE JAMES WAS ONE OF MY EARLIEST STUDIES. IN THE EARLY 1960s, I GOT INTERESTED TO SUCH A POINT THAT I CORRESPONDED BRIEFLY WITH ONE OF JESSE’S BIOGRAPHER’S, CARL BREIHAN. (NOW WHERE DID I PUT THAT LETTER?!) BY THE END OF THE SIXTIES I WAS PRETTY DISILLUSIONED WITH HIS HOMICIDAL WAYS. LAST WEEK I SAW THE BRAD PITT VERSION FOR THE FIRST TIME, AND WHILE I THINK PITT IS TOO PRETTY TO PLAY JESSE AND THEY OUGHT TO HAVE INCLUDED JESSE’S RACISM, I LIKED THE ATTEMPT AT AUTHENTICITY. DEFINITELY A MOVIE WHICH OWES SOME CREDIT TO MY LONG-AGO CORRESPONDENT AND JESSE’S BIOGRAPHER, CARL BREIHAN.

  2. Mike says:

    They did touch on the fact that Jesse was a southern loyalist. They also had other refferences throughout the movie that would leave one to believe that Jesse and his gang were racist, but I think they left it out because that was not what the film was about. In my opinion, it was more about the confussion of a young man in Robert Ford. A man who wanted to be great. A man who wanted to be seen as tough, dangerous, smart, strong, powerfull, brave, and renowned but, lacked all of these qualities. He wanted to be everything that he percieved Jesse James to be, but he could not. SO what better than to be the man who killed such a man. I loved this movie. Casey Affleck is almost creepy how he idolizes Jesse. Almost as if he has some sort of “crush” on him. THe whole film is well done and I love the sound track.

  3. Dana Ruffin says:

    I love this movie. I think that the direction of the film was brilliant and beautiful. Casey Afleck was so intreguing I spent the whole movie watching him and trying to figure him out. The entire cast was great. Movies move so fast now it was nice to see a film that didn’t race you from one scene to another. You can tell that the production of this movie was devoted to this story and getting every scene and detail right .. and they absoluty did! I was so drawn into this movie that I don’t think I moved from my seat the entire time I first saw it and when it was over I was so struck by the story and the perfection of the acting and overall production that I immediatly watched it again. I completely get the direction they were going here .. Perfect! A true piece of art through and through

  4. John says:

    You missed the point. Jesse James WASN’T a “superhero” nor the “greatest outlaw ever”…he was simply a man with flaws, faults, and a product of his own celebrity, a tragedy in the making.

  5. Jilam says:

    This version is an anti-Western. It subverts what we expect from a Western. It is about personality, psychology, documentary. Maybe the picture was too pretty. At least there was a story. It would have been a great film it the writers didn’t appear to be afraid of dialogue, (which is a terrible bug that has infected Hollywood these days.)The narration could have been incorporated into dialogue, and visually. Still it is a good film with Realistic acting. It wasn’t too long. It could have ended with the death and funeral of James, and not suffered. A single line might have saved the extra $ spent on Ford’s fate. In the end, it is a biographical take on a legend that few nowadays remember. It is simpathetic in a way that Nicholas Ray would have liked, I think. Ray made a similar take on Jesse James. It would be interesting to compare the two films.

  6. poushag says:

    I thought it was poignant that in this film neither the hero nor anti-hero (James and Ford, respectively) had any compunction about shooting an adversary from behind. Only Hite and Liddel shot it out face to face. (And it did bother me that there were 14 shots fired between the two of them in this scene. The Colt 1851 Navy wielded by Liddel and the Colt 1873 by Hite were both 6 guns!) So how different were James and Ford really (in this portrayal)? Eerily similar in that both achieved notoriety from crimes committed with their weapons. They happened to intersect at different points in their careers. But they both used the same tactics and, in the end, it seems like they both must have gotten tired of always having to glance over a shoulder for the next guy looking to become famous. When you live by the gun, you prob’ly gwine die by it too.

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