>> The Assasination of Jesse James… (Brandon’s Review, 5.5/10)

jesse_james_poster.jpgAndrew Dominik’s long shelved/awaited Western is a little on the overcooked side, it wants to be a thoughtful story about the weight of consequence and the bitter twang we get in our mouths when our heroes are not the people that we always wished them to be, it‘s only slightly successful in any case. The degree to which it works is because of Casey Affleck, a personal hero of mine who makes the allegedly cowardly Robert Ford into someone sympathetic and lovable. He’s bullied often in the film by his brothers, their friends and most unkindly of all his hero Jesse James. Ford tries to blow it off, but underneath it we see a man at a breaking point (we all have one, but how you grapple with disappointment is the difference between you and a man vilified by history, the decision does not rest easy with Ford who lived in the shadow of his reputation for the next ten years and knew that the few smiles he ever received were not earned or lasting). Eventually Robert and one of his brothers (Sam Rockwell) will betray Jesse and soon be asked to kill him. After a scene late in the film where Pitt’s Jesse James pulls back Robert’s head and holds a knife to his throat I was glad that he was willing to oblige.

Calling Robert Ford a coward is a contradiction of sorts, presumably he is a coward for shooting Jesse James with his back turned but Jesse James does the same to a former partner at one point in the movie. I would call this self preservation not cowardice. I would also call it the smart thing, Billy the Kid shot more than one man in the back. As portrayed by Brad Pitt Jesse James despite having a family is a real bad news type (beating a young man for refusing to reveal the whereabouts of his father while holding his mouth shut). I’ve seen a lot of Westerns where heroes do bad things and bad men do bad things but asking us to believe the man who shot Jesse James, played by Brad Pitt as a cowboy descendant of his psychotic Early Grace from “Kalifornia,” is a weasel doesn’t sit well with me. It’s not as if though the film makes Ford a despicable person (it doesn’t), but by calling him a coward in the title Jesse James by omission of any descriptors is elevated to something decidedly more heroic. He’s not. I really, really hate him.

“The Assassination of Jesse James” is by no means a stinking awful film but at two hours and forty minutes it’s not without long stretches of tedium. Hugh Ross, the film’s narrator, is often doing the dramatic heavy lifting that the capable cast is rarely given the opportunity to do outside of Affleck. If the characters had been given the opportunity to vocalize what they were thinking a little more often we wouldn’t need to rely on the narrator to so often drive home the point of a scene that meandered on a little too long and forgot where it was going. Andrew Dominik’s film is amongst the least of a number of films in this genre, hamstrung as it is by narration and in a genre full of conflicted rogues it boasts what could easily be the most unlikable in the whole lot. Nobody’s saying that Westerns aren’t often cynical films marked by the passing of icons and eras, but they aren’t usually this boring either.

5.5 on a 1 to 10 scale


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