The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Go ahead, make one more joke about my brother!


Golden Mug

NOMINEE:
Actor (Casey Affleck)

Theatrical Release Date: 09/21/2007
Director: Andrew Dominik
Cast: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Mary-Louise Parker, Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” Hold on while I copy the title using ctrl-c and rest my fingers before they cramp up from all the exertion.

The long lost Hansen brother, Ron Hansen wrote the novel, from which the terrible film title is derived. What? The crappy teen band was Hanson, not Hansen? Oh, who the heck cares?

The important part is asking why in the hell they didn’t shorten the title of the film to “The character assassination of Brad Pitt by the younger Affleck brother, Casey”? Wait, that’s even longer and possibly worse.

Whatever.

The film, “tAoJJbtCRF” (now that has a nice ring to it), deals with the last years of Jesse James’ life and most germane to the film, with the Ford brothers. Affleck plays Robert Ford, an eager but young and naive wannabe gunslinger who has idolized Jesse James all his life. Sam Rockwell plays Charlie Ford, who introduces Robert to Jesse and is also a member of the gang.

Without doing any research (because I’m lazy and would rather spend my time in other ways), I can’t speak to the accuracy of the details in the film, as derived from the novel. While there are some interesting bits of James’ life on display, my main issue with the film is that this seemed like a history lecture and I’m not going to necessarily contradict that it’s a bad thing.

As a fan of independent cinema and character studies, I’m used to the slower paced films. Writer/director Andrew Dominik takes “tAoJJbtCRF” to a whole new level which I can only describe as glacial. I realize that the running time is just over 2 1/2 hours but I started this at noon, it’s now a quarter to three, and I feel like I’ve been asleep all day.

Some scenes drag on and on like an unedited home video of a family reunion. And I will admit that this worked for some of the scenes, as it served to highlight the excellent cinematography and beautiful landscapes. Still, this felt more like a one hour lecture on the last years of Jesse James being stretched out just to fill the time of a feature-length film.

Thankfully counterbalancing the extremely slow pace is some very good acting. Brad Pitt, even though he plays the legendary Jesse James, really only has one or two scenes to flex any of his acting talent but uses what he’s given well. However, the film is primarily about the other titular character, Robert Ford, whose portrayal by Casey Affleck is fantastic.

There is a clear arc to his character, which I credit to Affleck and the writers and director. Robert Ford isn’t portrayed simply as the man who shot Jesse James. We get to see the young man who has put James up on a pedestal, only to have that image torn down as his bravado is mocked by others in the gang. Then Ford gradually gains some self-worth/backbone and after one fateful night of gun play, he begins to truly realize the gravity that comes along with delving in dark deeds.

It is this examination of Robert Ford that keeps the film from falling on its face. Without it, there would be no way to empathize with Ford’s role what became a national sensation.

The other actors also provide solid performances and the production design also should be commended. Tie that together with the quality cinematography and there are reasons to see this film.

However, if you can’t keep from nodding off to films that are so slow and methodical, this isn’t for you. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt, due to the strong performance of Affleck, and chamber a 3 out of 5 to “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (thank goodness for the cut and paste feature … seriously, they couldn’t have shortened the title?).

I can see why it was hard to give a film like this any traction in the theaters but fans of westerns and Jesse James’ history buffs should find something to enjoy here. But choose when you see this wisely, I don’t recommend hoping you can squeeze this in between brunch and that three o’clock you have with your therapist.