The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford” is a good two hour movie, stretched in to an average three hour film. This movie needs some serious editing. Do not get me wrong, a movie is as long as it needs to be. If it needs to be three hours, then you will not hear a complaint from me. But this movie has sections that really drag, mixed with scenes of true power and acting that will blow you away. In fact if not for anything else, see this movie for its showcase of stellar performances.
Brad Pitt gives one of his best performances as the outlaw Jesse James. Here he shows that he is not just a star, but a real character actor. He embodies this role and makes it larger than life. Casey Affleck, giving yet another terrific performance, plays the coward, Robert Ford. His transformation from an idolizing follower, to a killer is incredible.
The story follows James in the twilight of his career. The movie opens with one of his last train robberies. This is where the story is strongest. The men brutally take what they want, then go their separate ways, waiting for James to come calling again. This is also Ford’s first robbery as part of the James gang. After they split up, the movie descends in to an overly long plot involving double crosses, murder and revenge. It becomes a rather mixed bag of scenes that are brilliant and scenes that are just flat.
For my money, the strongest scene in the film involves Jesse James appearing at the Ford home unannounced. Unknown to him, his cousin has just been murdered within these very walls. Watch as everyone listens to James intently, knowing what they know, as he shares a story. Then watch Brad Pitt as Jesse begins to realize that something is up. This takes a skilled director and very skilled actors to build this kind of tension.
But then we get scenes where James needlessly beats a young boy for information that he does not have. The scene becomes awkward, and could have been cut completely.
In the end I think the film is worth seeing. The acting is marvellous and the direction is good. From a technical point of view, this is one of the best looking movies I have ever seen. The locations and sets all build an eerie mood. The cold, frozen lands are almost a character in themselves. What was really needed most, was tighter editing.