Ho-hum Western lacks depth and imagination

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

on September 21, 2007 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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Hollywood never tires of its famous outlaws, be they Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok or, of course, the legendary Jesse James, the celebrity of his age, who is the subject of a quasi-revisionist movie that adds little of interest to the Western canon.

In 1881 Missouri, after a successful 20-year career robbing banks and stagecoaches, 34-year-old Jesse James (Brad Pitt) has pretty much retired, planning one last train job before getting out of the business for good, or so he says. On the outs with older brother Frank (Sam Shepard), a paranoid Jesse reluctantly lets two siblings, taciturn Charley Ford (Sam Rockwell) and his insecure, worshipful younger brother Robert (Casey Affleck), join his crew. But Jesse's suspicious nature and menacing demeanor set in motion actions that will lead to his death.

At more than two-and-a-half hours, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford , based on the novel by Ron Hansen, is as unwieldy as its title and far longer than its thin story warrants. Much of the film, burdened by unnecessary, obvious narration, is an overly languid, dully paced prelude to the main event, Jesse James' murder, which is dispensed with pretty quickly near the movie's end. As Robert Ford, Affleck, in a one-note performance, telegraphs his intentions the minute he appears on screen, and Pitt simply can't convey the complexity—the push-pull between a heroic nature and a cruel one—that the film, not entirely convincingly, insists Jesse possesses.

There is some good acting in the film, notably that of Rockwell as Charley Ford and Paul Schneider, ( Lars and the Real Girl ), as Dick Liddil, the erudite member of Jesse's gang. The film also looks great, courtesy of ace cinematographer Roger Deakins ( Kundun ), but truth told, compared to similarly themed, superior movies such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Long Riders , among others, there's nothing here we haven't seen many times before.

For complete coverage of the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, search boxoffice.com using keyword "TIFF 2007."
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Mary-Louise Parker, Paul Schneider, Jeremy Renner, Zooey Deschanel and Sam Rockwell
Director/Screenwriter: Andrew Dominik
Producers: Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Ridley Scott, Jules Daly and David Valdes
Genre: Western
Rating: R for some strong violence and brief sexual references
Running time: 155 min.
Release date: September 21, 2007 ltd.
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