Tom Howard

Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck give haunting and completely convincing performances as the title characters in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford", a very long movie I'll remember for years. Broke my own rule and saw a movie based on one of my favorite novels. I can't recommend it to just anyone, though, because:

  • It is nearly three hours long.
  • It has a bad case of time-lapse cloud photography.
  • If you're not an outlaw junkie, you can't tell the players without a program.
  • At moments you may feel stuck in a cross between "Hotel California" and the History Channel.
  • It's not Marshall Dillon's wild west.
  • There are no good guys in white hats.

I can recommend it to people interested in the highly unsanitary 1880's, to photographers, and to folks who still wonder how John Hinckley, Jr.'s mind worked when he thought shooting Ronald Reagan might impress Jodie Foster. The photography is gorgeous:

  • Rocking chair shadows on a wood floor.
  • A locomotive's headlamp through the Missouri trees.
  • Cold pump water in a stoneware bowl.
  • A betrayer through a frosted window.

When everyone knows how the story ends, it is difficult to know where it should start or conclude. The movie needs more back story to understand the familial and psychological ties between the gang members. It needs either more or far less focus on the Ford brothers after Jesse's murder.

If you have the patience and endurance, this movie drags you into its world to observe the psychological drama between two legends in their own minds. If not, you might be better off borrowing a Hansen novel from your public library.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

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