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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford Movie Poster

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Two Stars
Genre: Action/Drama/Western
Rated: R
Directed by:
Andrew Dominik
Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Mary-Louise Parker, Sam Shepard, Paul Schneider
Released by: Warner Bros. Pictures


In Short: The languid pace of this internally-driven Western will sadly put most viewers to sleep by the time Jesse James finally gets it in the back, shot by the “coward” Robert Ford.

A Painfully Slow Death
Just Shoot Him Already!

In case you have never heard of Jesse James, the title of Brad Pitt’s take on that legendary Western outlaw says it all. “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” follows the tale of James’ last days, after he and his brother Frank had become the men of legend in post-Civil War America. It’s a story that has been told on film countless times before; in fact, Jesse James, Jr., himself starred in two silent movies playing his famous father way back in 1921.

Sam Shepard in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Mary-Louise Parker and Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

In this version, the year is 1881 and James is 34 years old. And that’s where the trouble begins with this languidly-paced look at the train-and-bank robber’s last days. For as good-looking as Brad Pitt remains, his 43-year-old visage isn’t remotely believable as a man of 34. Nor is his supposedly nineteen-year-old nemesis Robert Ford; played by 32-year-old Casey Affleck, there’s not a whit of youthfulness about him, despite his creepy performance. Even worse is the ridiculous casting of 63-year-old Sam Shepard as Jesse’s brother, Frank, who in real life is only four years older. It is hard to suspend one’s disbelief and accept that these men on the screen are the same outlaws who created the legends we all learned about as children.

Paul Schneider in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Add into the mix the deliberate, often slogging pace of the piece, the washed-out color palette (that seemingly mimics old-time photographs), the spare dialogue and a close to three-hour running time, and the result is a yawn-inducing experience that is not saved by Pitt’s well-acted take on the outlaw’s skid into paranoia and depression.

To make matters worse, once Ford has finally, thankfully, gunned down James, the story is still not over, plodding on for another ten minutes to inform us of the assassin’s life after killing the famous outlaw. The saddest thing of all about this film is that it is actually an interesting story overall; but not as presented in this painfully dull sophomore effort of Kiwi director Andrew Dominik, whose first film “Chopper” helped make Eric Bana a star.



PNJ092007
(Updated 09/21/07 NJ)

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