The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is just as long as the title implies.  With a running time of over two and a half hours, It's a pretty interesting film, partially because it feels like an experiment that work out not quite exactly how the filmmakers wanted.  Adapter/director Andrew Dominick's previous film was the incendiary Chopper (which, incidentally, was also the film that launched Eric Bana's American career).  Dominick does a u-turn here, going Terence Malick on everybody.  Jesse James is a thoughtful Western that moves deliberately, languidly, and in its worst moments, slowly.  It unfolds like a dream, sometimes literally with a picture that is slightly out of focus around the edges.

The plot is pretty obvious - just read the title.  Dominick adapted the movie from the novel by Ron Hansen.  He favors the usage of a bit too much voice over narration by Hugh Ross (For Love of the Game, Zero Effect), which has the effect of slowing down an already slow-paced movie.  Unlike most people's vision of a Western, this doesn't involve shoot-outs and chases.  There are a few, but the focus here is on the characters, specifically James and Ford.

Dominick tells the later days of James (Pitt, Ocean's Thirteen, Babel) through Ford (Casey Affleck, Ocean's Thirteen, The Last Kiss).  Ford is enamored with James.  When younger, he collected everything he could about the outlaw.  Ford's brother Charley (Sam Rockwell, Joshua, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) is a member of the James gang, allowing Ford access to James.  Through a campaign of non-stop flattery and near-harassment, Ford talks his way onto the gang.  From there, the narrative jumps forward in fits and starts.  The general story of The Assassination of Jesse James concerns the last days of the James gang, but the movie itself is more concerned with the story of Ford.

Pitt looks like he's having a grand time.  After all, who wouldn't want to play the legendary Jesse James?  He keeps the real James somewhat of a mystery.  He may be insane and paranoid, or he may be extremely smart, and his behavior is just a ruse.  What is clear is that Ford is pretty weird, and that Affleck is the real find here.  He's never had anything too substantial or too much of a stretch on his resume.  Ford is by far the most different thing he has ever done, and it is fascinating watching him.  His Ford is enamored with the idea of becoming friends with James.  Ford is childish, petulant, and worships James like an idol.  His constant attention would make anybody nervous, so James seems a bit naive to keep him around.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
2 hours, 40 minutes, Rated R for violence and brief sexual references.

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