Movie #118: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Director: Andrew Dominik

Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Jeremy Renner, Sam Rockwell, Mary-Louise Parker

Academy Award Nominations (2008):

Best Achievement in Cinematography: Roger Deakins

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Casey Affleck

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During the winter of 1882 Jesse James (Pitt) is increasingly paranoid and depressed after the retirement of his older brother and collapse of his gang.  Bob Ford (Affleck), a young outlaw who idolizes James, talks his way into his hero’s inner circle only to turn against him. (501 Must-See Movies, 2010).

For a movie that spells out what happens in the title, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford takes a really long time to get to that ending.  For all the good qualities of this film, I have a difficult time getting over how slow this movie progresses.  There is a certain element of suspense as each event builds to the ultimate finale, however, I feel like it could have been an hour shorter with the same effect.

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The exchanges between Pitt and Affleck help in building the tension throughout this film.  I was somewhat skeptical of Brad Pitt playing Jesse James.  It just doesn’t come across as the type of role he would take.  Fortunately he does a decent job in portraying the paranoid, aging outlaw.

Casey Affleck’s performance as Robert Ford walks a very fine line.  He does a good job of depicting the younger brother type who is always picked on.  He does a decent job idolizing Jesse, but it comes across in both a creepy, naive, arrogant way that’s outputting for me.  He received an Oscar nomination for his performance, which I understand, but for me his performance just didn’t quite click.

It’s also interesting to see people like Jeremy Renner, Sam Rockwell, Mary-Louise Parker, and Zooey Deschanel to a lesser degree given the other bigger roles each has done since this film.  They blend well into a Western-era film even though it’s not the type of movie any of them would typically do.

I go back and forth with modern western films.  There are some films that I enjoy, however, I feel like the western genre in general is something that was done a lot better in the past.  The charm of older westerns for me is in the primitive film making techniques.  The sometimes over-the-top shootouts and inaccurate special effects are some of the most charming parts of the older films, and modern films just miss that “it” factor.

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Having now seen The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford twice, my initial observations of the film were only reaffirmed.  The film has its charm and the actors did a surprisingly good job.  However, it could have been an hour shorter and told the same story.  It isn’t on my “to watch again” list, and I think it’s one that can be skipped.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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