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

First off, I’m just tired of this whole “Malick-esque” observation everybody’s making about this movie, whether that’s a compliment or a criticism, so I’m just glancing over it.  Just look at the damn thing for its own merits or faults.  The bottom-line is that this is a movie that looks great and tells its story in a subdued way that becomes more compelling as it goes along, but it’s also way too long, extremely uneven in the middle, and has little if any of the cohesion or economic pace of a Malick film.  I was actually ready to label this as one of the biggest movie-watching disappointments i’ve had in a long time, until it really found itself in its dynamic, complex portrayal of the bizarre relationship between Jesse James and Bob Ford.  In fact, I think what I most appreciated about this movie is something i would’ve hated in other movies: an inability to get a grasp of who Jesse James, one of the main characters, really is.  Is he mad and power-hungry?  An icon inspiring fear in all who know him?  Depressed and regretful of the life he’s made for himself?  A world-weary family man?  All of the above?  I have no idea, and I think that was the whole point in making Jesse James such a strange film character: both nearly impossible to characterize and awe-inspiring at the same time…in other words, seen exactly from the point of view of Bob Ford, which is why the last third of the film is by far the best, when it gains a focus on one particular relationship and takes it to its conclusion in a scene nearly perfect in its use of suspense and questions (I don’t think I’m giving anything away with that movie title, and in asking just what the hell Jesse James was thinking in taking off his guns and turning his back on the kid to clean a fucking picture.  And I don’t think we’re meant to know).  That one scene may’ve been the best and most complex acting Brad Pitt’s ever done, not to mention the emergence of Casey Affleck from Ben’s little brother to major dramatic actor.  If only the rest of the movie had the solidity of the last section, this would’ve been the masterpiece I’d been waiting months to see.



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