the assassination of jesse james by the coward robert ford

Of course the first thing we all notice is the ponderous title. It's a spoiler, it's a mood-setter, it introduces the two principal characters. Name me one other title that accomplishes all that. Seriously, comment below if you can think of one.

It took me quite a while to get around to finally seeing this; I got the Netflix envelope in the mail a few weeks ago. I had a feeling I wasn't going to enjoy it. Even though the film got great reviews, and Casey Affleck got that Oscar nod, I had a feeling it would be long... slow... and as verbose as its title. And you know what? It was. But I loved it.

From the get-go, we're introduced to the two title characters, and we see them for what they are: James is a cool, swaggering, ruthless, larger-than-life folk hero, while Affleck's Ford is a puny, grinning nincompoop of a fanboy. As the film progresses, however, and numerous other characters insert themselves between James and Ford, the dynamic between hero and anti-hero begins to change. James is (rightfully) paranoid, mistrusting everyone he comes across; Ford (also rightfully) begins to fear the man he once idolized. When the titular event finally happens, it's not wild and dramatic; rather, a feeling of melancholy and resignation permeates the scene.

The performances are outstanding from everyone involved. Pitt convincingly applies his own experience to express the world-weariness that comes from limitless fame. Affleck disappears into his role as nervous, stammering Ford. Finally, the two are supported by a fantastic cast, including subtle performances from Sam Rockwell, Mary Louise Parker, and Zooey Deschanel. I was also pleasantly surprised to see James Carville in this film. He played a politician (not much of a stretch), but his acting was certainly passable.

I think my recent experiences in film have reminded me of the dangers of anticipation. I was stoked to see Definitely, Maybe, went through all kinds of trouble to see it, and was promptly let down. On the other hand, I avoided Jesse James for weeks, and ended up loving it. Go fig.
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16 Response to "the assassination of jesse james by the coward robert ford"

  1. Pat says:
    February 19, 2008 at 11:30 AM

    This is up next in my Netflix queue, so I should get to see it in a couple of days. Like you, I've had mixed feelings about actually settling down to watch it, but your review has revived my interest.

  2. Daniel G. says:
    February 19, 2008 at 11:40 AM

    Glad you didn't pass up the opportunity to see it - I think it will grow on you. I saw this opening night in September with few expectations, and I was blown away. I've been preaching far and wide about Casey Affleck ever since. In my book this was the most snubbed film of the year - it got a couple of conciliatory nods, but not the biggies, which it deserved.

    I don't want to build up expectations for those who haven't seen it, but this was my second fave of the year. I think in due time it will receive the respect it deserves.

  3. Linda says:
    February 19, 2008 at 6:46 PM

    I was also surprised by how much I liked this film. I was most impressed by the look of the film, wouldn't be surprised to see it win the Oscar for Cinematography.

  4. CG says:
    February 20, 2008 at 10:03 AM

    Oooo!! I've had this sitting around forever, but haven't bothered popping it in yet. Like you, I've been afraid of the length, as I haven't had much sit down time recently. Fu*k it though, your write up has gotten me excited to see it. I know what I'm doing when I get home later today.

  5. Nayana Anthony says:
    February 20, 2008 at 11:25 AM

    Pat, it was much better than I anticipated. I hope you enjoy it.

    Daniel, Casey Affleck was great, but I also really appreciated Brad Pitt's performance. I am as sick of "Brangelina" as anyone else, but Brad and Angie do have their moments as fine actors.

    Linda, you're right. It was lovely.

    CG, watch it! Make sure you're ready to dig in for a few hours... and no one's saying it isn't long and slow. But I don't think that's always a bad thing. In this case, it really enhanced the whole mood of the piece for me.

  6. Chris Phoenix says:
    February 20, 2008 at 8:54 PM

    I always sort of thought Kill Bill was a title that sums up the movie pretty well. Sorry, movies.

    Anyway, I purchased Jesse James the week it came out and have yet to watch it. I'm really bad about this. As a DVD collector sometimes, all I want to do is to be able to say I have it. I love westerns though, so I'm sure I'll have this watched within the next couple of months. Did you ever see The Proposition?

  7. Nayana Anthony says:
    February 20, 2008 at 9:58 PM

    You are a much better DVD collecter than I am, Chris. In fact, lately I haven't been buying many at all, mainly because I find that after I buy a movie, I never watch it again. Don't know why that happens. No, I've never seen The Proposition. Is that a Western, too?

  8. Chris Phoenix says:
    February 21, 2008 at 2:14 PM

    The Proposition is a different kind of western. It takes place in Australia though. It's pretty good.

  9. Rick Olson says:
    February 21, 2008 at 8:58 PM

    So, of all the great Westerns out this fall (No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, 3:10 to Yuma) how do you feel this compares? Or does it.

  10. Nayana Anthony says:
    February 22, 2008 at 9:46 AM

    In my opinion, 3:10 to Yuma was the only classic Western. No Country felt like more of a neo-Western thriller; There Will Be Blood (although it was in the Western setting, actually shot in the same area as No Country) was just an epic character study. Jesse James lacked the frenetic gunfights and dramatic pacing of most Westerns... it was more meticulous and melancholy, and in places it almost felt like a serial killer movie.

    Given all that, though, I enjoyed No Country and Jesse James the most, though for quite different reasons. As I said, they're very different movies, and almost don't belong in the same category.

  11. Fletch says:
    February 22, 2008 at 10:14 AM

    What about Dude, Where's My Car? in terms of explaining a movie?

    Or maybe...Kissing Jessica Stein ...or John Tucker Must Die...or The Pope Must Die(t)?

  12. Nayana Anthony says:
    February 22, 2008 at 10:16 AM

    chris and fletch:

    All very good, explanatory, mood-setting titles. But you still haven't thought of one that introduces TWO principle characters. :-)

  13. Fletch says:
    February 22, 2008 at 10:50 AM

    Three Men and a Baby.

    Bam - there's four!

  14. Chris Phoenix says:
    February 22, 2008 at 11:32 PM

    Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle

    Also, try putting The Proposition on your Netflix queue. At the very least under the "eventually" region that never seems to move up because you keep adding stuff before them.

  15. Nayana Anthony says:
    February 23, 2008 at 7:56 PM

    Fletch... touché.

    Chris... I like yours even better, because they're named. And, ok, if you insist. It's on the queue. :-) You know, I don't believe I've ever turned down one of your recommendations. Maybe I just defer to all that edjamacation you're getting.

  16. Mrs. Thuro says:
    February 27, 2008 at 2:53 PM

    I saw this one on a whim when it was in theaters, and thought it was one of the best of the year. I also think it was extremely snubbed come awards season, but it was a pretty strong competition this year with No Country adn There Will Be Blood.

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