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

Length: 160 Minutes
Rated: R
Grade: DCCB=C
Budget: $30 million
Box Office: $4 million US, $11 million Int’l, $9 million DVD

Directed by: Andrew Dominik, whose only previous work of any kind was directing another true-crime drama, Chopper, which I’ve never heard of.
Starring: Casey Affleck, Brad Pitt, Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, Jeremy Renner, Sam Sheppard, Garret Dillahunt, Mary-Louise Parker, and Zooey Deschanel.

This is the true story of the final days of the infamous and widely admired outlaw, Jesse James, by a man who wanted at first to become him and then later took advantage of circumstances to kill him.

Entertainment Value: D
Casey Affleck was nominated for best supporting actor, and probably only failed to win it because of Javier’s Bardem’s performance in No Country for Old Men. It was also nominated for cinematography, which I admit was wonderful. Nonetheless, I wanted to cry with boredom at this movie which I wanted to enjoy but just couldn’t. Every part of it seemed so implausible to me, especially the notion that Jesse James could be so savvy but allow this squirrely new guy so much access to him. If the point was to show that all these criminals were somewhere between eccentric and totally insane, it worked. But it wasn’t a compelling portrayal, at least to me. And that’s even including the fact that Brad Pitt is one of my very favorite actors. Here’s the weird thing. I love any sort of Western, and my wife does not. She thought this was fine, while I hated it.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality B, Violence D, Language C, Illegality D
Senseless violence is both shown and implied in plenty of offensive ways. Robberies are discussed and perpetrated. A scene of adultery occurs, there’s a vulgar discussion of sex, and a man’s naked body is dumped in a ditch. Language is rough, which you would expect, but not awful.

Significant Content: C
Criminals are not men to be admired, just below average minds who area willing to do some awful things. Ambition is a dangerous thing. Disillusionment with your heroes is even more dangerous. Loyalty is important, and it will often change when you least expect it. It’s possible to be a good family man and a brutal murderer. Family is a stronger bond than friendship.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
One thing I will say for the movie is that it’s beautiful, showing some amazing scenes of American landscape. Something I never did understand was the regular use of a hazy filter effect that didn’t seem to accomplish anything other than making the scene look weird. As art, it succeeds in portraying criminals very honestly and realistically.

Discussion Questions:
~Who is to be pitied more: Robert Ford for discovering that the real Jesse James wasn’t the superhero the dime novels made out or the other readers who continued to believe this fantasy?
~Is this movie meant to be a commentary on the media and accuracy? Would you consider it a success as a portrayal of evil because it refuses to glamorize the villains? Consider for contrast Denzel Washington’s character in American Gangster.
~Who in this movie thinks highly of himself, and who has a low self-image?
~Who in this movie seems sane to you?
~Have you ever been told that you aren’t capable of something you really wanted to do? How did it affect you?
~Do you think Jesse James chose to allow himself to be killed? Why would he, if he did?
Overall Grade: C
Even though I recognize the movie succeeded in several ways, I just didn’t enjoy watching it, especially at nearly 3 hours in length.

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