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Movie Review: The Assassination of Jesse James

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Written and directed by Andrew Dominick based on the novel by Ron Hansen
Warner Bros.

Dominick’s last film was 2000’s Chopper, which I confess I haven’t seen as of this writing, but I heard was really good. Dominick has made a different kind of Western here and it’s certainly more than worth checking out. Most Westerns aren’t dialogue-driven, they are action pictures most of the time.

The story takes place after Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and his brother Frank (Sam Shepard) have decided to call it quits on the train robberies, or at least Frank has. The remaining crew, including Dick Liddil (Paul Schneider), Ed Miller (Garret Dillahunt), James’ cousin Wood Hite (Jeremy Renner), Charley Ford (Sam Rockwell), and his brother Robert (Casey Affleck) all manuever to get close to Jesse and be part of his new era.

But there is a reward for James, and some of this crew has decided to try to find a way to capture him and split the reward money. James always seems to know when danger lurks, able to scarily read people, and begins to test the lying ability of all his crew. Robert, who has done nothing but admire James all his life, complete with a collection of glorified tales of the man, comes under suspicion, too. James’ paranoia begets Robert’s own mission to kill the man.

The movie is suspenseful, with James’ paranoia he becomes impossible to read. Is he just playing around when he sticks a knife to Robert’s throat, or is it a warning? When he laughs, is he masking anger? That kind of thing. Well plotted, scripted, and performed, The Assassination of Jesse James is certainly a fine movie. Pitt and Affleck have gotten deserved awards buzz, but the rest of the cast is excellent as well. I particularly liked Paul Schneider as Dick Liddil in his somewhat limited, but memorable, role.

The movie also explores the glorification of outlaws; how James was mourned after the loss and Ford ripped as a coward not long after the killing. It also has the feel of the question, “Is it ever right to kill anyone under any circumstance other than self-defense?” It has a great deal on its mind but it doesn’t hit you over the head with it. This is very good and worth a look.


Comment from Jonathan
Time: September 22, 2007, 5:41 pm

I’m really excited about seeing this film, and I have seen “Chopper.” While I don’t think it’s great, it’s a great acting tour de force for Eric Bana who I haven’t liked that much since. In fact, I just saw “Lucky You,” uggh!!!

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