Written and Directed
by Andrew Dominik
Running Time: 2:36
for some strong violence and
brief sexual references.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was a good looking, well acted movie that dragged on way too long.
Jesse James was a famous outlaw during his day. Thieving with almost complete impunity, James and his gang robbed dozens of trains and became a cult hero among many people. One of these people, Robert Ford, was able to join the James gang during what became the last train robbery the James gang would pull off. As Ford tried his best to become close to his idol, James became more and more paranoid that someone in his gang (or many of them) was trying to take him down. One by one James would go to the houses of his gang, and one by one they would disappear. Robert Ford was finally able to turn the tables on James, but it was an act that cast him as more of a coward than a hero, much to his ultimate dismay.
There is no question that The Assassination of Jesse James was a beautifully filmed movie. Every shot was poetic in nature. It felt like you were watching a documentary on the old West, with the voice over informing us of what was happening, and giving us insights the characters themselves didn't know about. From the train robbery that started the film, to the starkness of solitary house in the middle of fields of snow, the movie looked fantastic.
The acting was exceptional as well. Brad Pitt's version of Jesse James wasn't one of pomp and circumstance. It was a vision of someone being eaten from the inside. Someone who felt he had all the control in the world, but was slowly losing it day by day. His descent into paranoia was something to behold. In contract there was Casey Affleck's overly excited Robert Ford. Just 19 at the time he met Jesse James, Ford was almost certainly infatuated with the great gunslinger. There's one very telling line in the film where Jesse asks Ford 'Do you want to be like me, or do you want to be me?' The look on Ford's face when he realizes James has caught him is priceless. Ford was so completely into James that he was hurt by almost everything James did, and that's what allowed him to turn on James in the end.
The biggest problem with the movie is that it's way, way too long. It clocks in at almost 160 minutes, and I feel at least 45-60 minutes could have easily been taken out and still kept everything intact. While the scenes were beautifully shot, there are only so many empty fields of snow you can look at. It wasn't as if the movie jumped from one story to another, and there were certain story lines that could have been taken out. It was that each individual scene went on much longer than it needed to. Just because something looks good and the acting is great, doesn't mean that the scene needs to go on forever. There were many times where I felt like I could have taken a 10 minute nap and not missed anything.
And so that's where the biggest issue lay. No matter how good something is, if you can't keep someone's attention, it doesn't matter. I have sat through countless films that are close to three hours long, and while some of them were certainly more boring than this one, there were others that kept my interest throughout. I could never get into this film because no matter how interesting something was, it always ran on. It was like watching a Saturday Night Live sketch where they hit the joke, but then the scene runs for another few minutes. Those extra few minutes don't add anything to the punch line. It's all just filler. But unlike SNL, where the lack of good jokes means that you have to fill in the extra time, a movie can be edited down to the right length.
There were NO extras on the DVD. I have to admit, I was a rather disappointed in this. Let's presume that Brad Pitt and the rest of the cast didn't feel like sitting around for a commentary track, and that the writer and director followed their lead. Couldn't there at least have been some historical documentaries about Jesse James? There has to be something out there that Warner Bros. could have picked up and stuck on here. Considering how little money the movie made in theaters, you'd think they'd try and put as much as they could on the DVD release to get people in. Upon rewatch I found the movie held up well on DVD but still dragged in a lot of places. Usually when I watch a movie a second time and I know what's coming, I can prepare myself but even knowing there would be a lot of dead spots, I still couldn't sit still. I found I appreciated the visuals and acting performances even more the second go around, but I hope when they eventually release a version WITH extras, they also release it with a "Consumer's Cut" where they edit out 30-45 minutes from the film.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I was disappointed in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford mainly because it had all the right parts, but it didn't fit well together. Taking out 45 minutes from the running time wouldn't have hurt the story at all, but would have held my interest more instead of making me want to just take a nap.
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