The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford Review
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In the late 1800s, the James Brothers were legendary. Even though they were outlaws—wanted criminals who shot first and asked questions later—they were infamous. People even seemed to admire them. But no one idolized them more than Bob Ford (Casey Affleck), a young man who wanted nothing more than to hook up with the James Brothers and become a gun-slinging outlaw.

Finally, in 1881, at the ripe old age of 19, Bob gets his chance—when his brother, Charley (Sam Rockwell), is brought in to help the James Brothers with a train robbery. Bob tags along, eager to be accepted into the gang—but it’s pretty clear that Frank (Sam Shepard) and Jesse James (Brad Pitt) think he’s just a stupid kid.

Eventually, after Frank decides to move on and start a new life, Bob gets closer to Jesse. When he’s not robbing banks, the 34-year-old outlaw is a family man—a respectable citizen. But he’s slowly growing more and more paranoid—and the more Bob gets to know Jesse, the more he starts to fear for his life.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a film that’s driven by strong, memorable characters, portrayed through brilliant performances. Pitt’s Jesse James is shrewd but paranoid—and more than a little bit unstable. On the other hand, Affleck’s Ford is meek and trusting—and maybe not all that bright. He’d do anything to fit in—not realizing the cost until it’s too late.

In addition to the solid characters, the film tells an interesting story, and it makes some thought-provoking points along the way. The problem, however, is that the film is even longer—and more rambling—than its title. After two years on the editing table, it still weighs in at a whopping two hours and forty minutes—much of which is spent on meandering subplots, lengthy close-ups, and long, sweeping shots of the Missouri countryside in various seasons. And the story is often told not through action but through long passages of audiobook-style narration. After a while, I found myself struggling to pay attention, hoping that Ford would just shoot him and get it over with already.

The Assassination of Jesse James is definitely a beautiful film—and the acting is spectacular. And had it been a half hour—or maybe even an hour—shorter, it could have been a slow yet satisfying western, like 3:10 to Yuma. Instead, it’s just plain slow.

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