Oct 2, 2007

Short Review Of A Longwinded Movie

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Richard Ford is a movie even more pretentious and ponderous than its title, which is a pity because it is based on the fascinating story of the poor schmuck who killed the legendary criminal, thinking the world would thank him for it and got nothing but contempt in return. It's a great subject for a film but it is unfortunately bogged down by a cloak of pretentious, incompetent artiness that squeezes any hint of life out of it. The only person who looks alive in it is Sam Shepard, who plays Frank James. He seems to be the only one who actually belongs in that world.
The incredibly exquisite cinematography is by the masterful Roger Deakins, yet it's a testament to the preciousness of the movie that even the stunning beauty of every single shot begins to rub you the wrong way after the two hour mark. The film plods with no rhyme or reason for the sake of its own poetry. It's a real shame.
This movie would have worked if someone had the cold blood to chop off all the solemn fluff, and if someone had had a clearer idea of how to tell a story. A good cast is wasted, twisting their tongues around the authentic patois of the period, which was mostly unintelligible to me because it was mostly mumbled. Brad Pitt is fine, but no more than serviceable, as Jesse James.
I was happy to see James Carville, aka Serpenthead, play the governor of Missouri. He's a damn fine actor.
I don't get Casey Affleck's performance. Is he queer? Is he just weird for the sake of being weird? Was he born mysterious? He does gets better as the movie inches slowly along but one never gets a clear understanding of his character. After all, the movie is really about him, but the director is too busy being an artist to give his main character emotional coherence. A fine mess.

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