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4 reviews, 21 user ratings

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Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The New "Heaven's Gate"--I Mean That In A Good Way!"
5 stars

The story of the death of Jesse James has been chronicled countless times over the years in print, in song and on the big screen but I guarantee that you have never seen it depicted in the way that writer-director Andrew Dominik has done in his magnificent new film “The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford..” He has taken the familiar story and reconstructed it is such a fascinatingly abstract manner that it feels as if we are watching it unfold before our eyes for the very first time. The result is an audacious work that may well frustrate and annoy those who are simply looking for a routine genre film (including the people at Warner Brothers, who sat on it for over a year before giving it a perfunctory release) but which will dazzle both the eye and the mind of those who are looking for something more than just another oater.

Opening in September of 1861, approximately seven months before the titular event, the film begins with Jesse James (Brad Pitt) recruiting locals to assist in a train robbery that he is planning to pull in Blue Cut, Missouri with his brother Frank (Sam Shepard). Among those who turns up is Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), a starstruck and glory-hungry kid who plainly and serenely worships Jesse–or at least the myth of Jesse that has been painted in the dime novels that he obsessively reads from cover to cover. Almost immediately upon meeting him, Frank surmises that Robert is bad news and advises him to get lost but Jesse takes a shine to him and keeps him around, much to the consternation of fellow members Wood Hite (Jeremy Renner), Dick Liddil (Paul Schneider) and Ed Miller (Garret Dillahunt). Hell, even Robert’s own brother, Charley (Sam Rockwell), thinks that he may be in over his head and too consumed with the notion of becoming famous for his own good.

At first, Robert is so happy to be included in Jesse’s inner circle that he doesn’t even mind the fact that he is treated largely as a joke by everyone else. As time goes on, Robert becomes disillusioned to discover that Jesse, instead of being the romantic anti-hero of pulp fiction infamy, is in fact a cruel, paranoid and sadistic psychopath who would just as soon kill everyone around him if he even suspects that one of them might think of betraying him. Eventually, Robert and Charley align themselves with the law to bring Jesse to justice in order to save their skins and collect the reward but their intricate plan falls to pieces and in a panic, Robert shoots Jesse in the back while his former idol is hanging up a picture on the wall–an act that brings Robert the fame that he always desired but at a terrible psychological price that no amount of wine, women and notoriety can overcome.

Most of the advance word on the film has been dedicated to comparing it to the works of Terrence Malick. While I can easily see the reason behind such comparisons–like Malick’s work, it utilizes a spare narrative style, a deliberate and almost meditative pace and a visual style that is so ravishing that virtually every frame looks like an exquisite work of art–but the film I kept flashing back on while watching it was Michael Cimino’s infamous “Heaven’s Gate.” Like that earlier film, it takes a familiar genre story and approaches it in a uniquely contemporary manner that causes the film to work both as a large-scale epic filled with visual astonishment (cinematographer Roger Deakins is all but assured of an Oscar nomination for his contributions here) and as a low-key character-driven drama. This latter aspect is exemplified by the two fascinating lead performances at the film’s core–Pitt is mesmerizing as Jesse James, especially in the way that he can transform his innate personal charm into outright malevolence in a flash, and Affleck turns in his best screen performance to date as Ford, especially in the final scenes in which his character finds that he has become a prisoner of the fame that he has spent his entire life pursuing.

“The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford” is not without its flaws–the storytelling gets a little confused in the middle section when the focus shifts to the misadventures of Jesse’s underlings and anyone feeling the same delight that I did in the discovery that the always-reliable Mary-Louise Parker was appearing as Jesse’s wife will be disappointed to learn that she has maybe three lines in the entire film–and anyone looking for straightforward western thrills will no doubt come away somewhat disappointed at the lack of elaborate shootouts and similar genre conventions. To those people, I would suggest that you give this film a pass and check out “3:10 To Yuma” instead. For the rest of you, I urge you to check out this crazily ambitious attempt at creating a genuinely epic vision at a time when such things are increasingly becoming rarities–whether you love it or hate, you will come away from it with the knowledge that you have seen a real movie and not just another burst of glorified television.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16429&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/05/07 00:15:28
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/07/16 Bents Gorgeous to look at and very well acted. No one seems at ease in their own skin i 5 stars
5/30/14 The king slow and boring 1 stars
5/26/14 Richard Brandt Moody piece where everyone seems fated for an early death; gorgeous cinematography 5 stars
8/29/11 trux The best film of the last decade. 5 stars
5/31/11 fartvenugen stupid people. Revenge of the Nerds with mood music + Roger Deakins. 1 stars
5/23/10 bronson Starting to appreciate Brad Pitt. 4 stars
4/14/10 brian Casey Affleck should've won the Oscar. Mesmerizing. 5 stars
12/17/09 matt pretty incredible, even if it sometimes felt like being trapped in Pioneer Village. 5 stars
3/22/09 MP Bartley Languid plot moves at a glacial pace, but it's absorbing and frequently beautiful. 4 stars
9/28/08 Charles Tatum The best western of the last forty years 5 stars
7/30/08 mr.mike OK DVD watch , albeit overly artsy and textbook-ish. 3 stars
3/08/08 Marty Profound, poignant, poetic. Transcends its genre. Cinematic tour de force.. 5 stars
3/02/08 Nicholas Plowman Completely underated and brilliant, it may be long, but we get to see ore Casey! Great 5 stars
2/16/08 Maybe So Magnificent look, feel and acting, a fine film 4 stars
1/09/08 andy mellor superb to look at, some memorable scenes, drags in places 4 stars
12/12/07 William Goss Lovely to look at, with solid performances, but the pacing's a pity. 3 stars
10/26/07 Ole Man Bourbon The pussy-est outlaws ever, bud semi-interesting. Bring a pillow, though. 3 stars
10/25/07 gregg Casey Afflack is a very up comming actor,,,, much better then his dip-shit brother 5 stars
10/24/07 Criddic Absolutely wonderful. A thoughtful, well-acted Western. 5 stars
9/12/07 Mick Tobyn Long and slow moving, but very well acted 4 stars
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  21-Sep-2007 (R)
  DVD: 05-Feb-2008

  30-Nov-2007 (15)

  01-Nov-2007 (MA)

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