Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

This Plan B Production (producers included Brad Pitt and Ridley Scott) had been on my Netflix and library lists for ages and I finally got more interested. At 2 hours, 39 minutes, I had to plan for this epic movie. Movies keep getting longer and longer. It can really backfire in the case of a bad movie. This was a good one but a few dozen minutes could have been edited out.

The movie opens with a voice-over narration and the narration comes and goes throughout. While the narration was effective, the plot took its time to get rolling. I wasn't familiar with the story of Jesse James and this film didn't get into much of the history of why people revered him. After researching on the Internet, there's quite a back story. This movie focuses more on the relationships between the men in the Jesse James gang--in particular, the friendship between Jesse James (played by Brad Pitt) and Robert Ford (played by Casey Affleck, who Oscar-nominated for his supporting role. Pitt and Affleck do a good job with their cat-and-mouse chemistry and it's compelling to watch it unravel. Dreamy Pitt is enough to keep you interested.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

As depicted in this movie (which is based on a book by the same name), after Ford kills James, he claims his reward and then goes on with his brother Charley Ford (played by Sam Rockwell) to perform a play detailing the story of how the brothers planned and shot James. According to the film, Ford re-enacted the shooting (he played James) for audiences more than 800 times. In our modern fascination with reality TV, for that play to have been performed in the late 1800s is prescient. In a fantastic scene toward the end, Nick Cave has a small role as a saloon singer/guitarist who performs a song about the coward Ford in a bar where Ford is drinking.

So far, I've noted that the film was too lengthy and that it lacks better background info. Another issue is that the characters, particularly Affleck and Rockwell, don't age--at all. This movie spans some decades and yet, they appear the same age throughout. This is a disturbing trend and it takes me out of the moment (I had a similar issue w/ Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line). Have the make-up people just given up?

Themes: Wild West, friendship, betrayal, robberies, loyalty

Director: Andrew Dominik

1-5 Scale: I give it a four...it was a compelling watch.

No comments: