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"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

Directed by Andrew Dominik.
Written by Andrew Dominik.  Based on the novel by Ron Hansen.
Starring Casey Affleck, Brad Pitt, Sam Rockwell and Sam Shepard.

Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  10/11/07


The review won't totally reflect this, but I was a bit disappointed by "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (which will be referred to as "TAJJCRF") because its beautiful print and sexy visuals never come equipped with a story, character development or even vague excitement to make it a complete package.

Casey Affleck plays our coward, Robert; a loser from the start, Robert hooks up with The James Gang in 1881 hoping just to be around his hero Jesse James (Brad Pitt), whom he has idolized for years.  What Robert doesn't know is that Jesse and his older brother Frank James (Sam Shepard) have just completed their last train robbery, and are planning to semi-retire to a life of family and hiding from the Pinkertons.  Despite this, Robert--who's never amounted to anything and never seems to show the hope that he'll overcome his humble beginnings--and his brother Charlie (Sam Rockwell) have been friends of friends of Jesse for years, so when Jesse needs a couple more riding partners, he enlists the services of the Ford brothers to pal around the greater Missouri area while Jesse stays out of view from lawmen.

Other things are going on here, but that's the bulk of the movie, and thankfully, "TAJJCRF" is very, very beautiful to watch.  The cinematography is excellent but the visuals are often stunning, stark vistas of an Old West that rarely features shootouts and horse chases but give us plenty to chew on and stare at all film long.  It's the "long" part that is the problem; at 160 minutes, there are painfully long stretches where literally nothing happens to advance our story or give us insight into either Ford the coward or James the anti-hero.  And, everything happens so slowly for so long that if you see this film after dark--which is when I saw it--you will be fighting off slumber for many parts of "TAJJCRF."  This is not a good thing.

The performances of Pitt, Affleck and Rockwell are great; Mary-Louise Parker is oddly wasted as Jesse's wife, and Shepard is in the film for far too little.  The score is peaceful, and some of the biographical information of both the time and of James is interesting; I would have liked one or two more sequences to show how bad a man Jesse was prior to this last train robbery; as it is, I thought the film could have done more to paint Jesse as a bad man that had to go.  And, in classic "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" mode, "TAJJCRF" has a REALLY hard time finishing up; just when you think it's over, you've got 15 minutes to go.  Not a good idea.

Overall, though, I must admit that "TAJJCRF" is quite pleasant and will make you think that it wasn't too bad; it just felt a little empty given the situation.  There is vast room for improvement on this project, but as it is, it doesn't suck, that's for sure!

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09