Monday, May 19, 2008

Film Review: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

By guest reviewer, film-wench Renee A:

Usually I like watching movies about criminals about as much as I like listening to Celine Dion warble. But the criminal in question for this film is long dead and has a mythos surrounding him that made the concept seem mildly more interesting to me. Also, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (honestly, who thinks up these ridiculous titles? It takes longer to read the title than to watch the film!) has Brad Pitt in it. And let’s face it – Brad Pitt is hot (when not nanced up for such wastes of time as Troy and Legends of the Fall). He also, on occasion, acts rather well. I was further enticed by the trailer and by the fact that Andrew Dominik’s previous film (Chopper) had gotten some decent reviews. So, why not, I said to myself. (Yes, I often overanalyse whether or not I want to watch a film almost to the point of sucking the fun out of it. I can’t help it. I will make a promise that for all future reviews I won’t spend half the time justifying my decision to watch, and thus review, the movie in question). So, on to the review.

To say I enjoyed watching this film would be a lie. I found it impossible to connect to the characters, their actions or find anything to like in any of the events of the film. However, I suspect that this wasn’t really the point.

TAOJJBTCRF examines Jesse’s final descent into madness and shows the uneasy relationships he has with the members of his gang. I will give the movie a point or two for how well this is done – the acting is superb, particularly Pitt, Casey Affleck (as Robert Ford) and Sam Rockwell (as Ford’s brother), whose near hysterical retelling of family anecdotes at the dinner table while expecting Jesse to kill him at any moment was almost painful to watch. In fact, most of the characters looked as though they would happily jump off the screen and hide under my blanket at any moment, the threat (imagined and real) of Jesse is so great.

A heavy sense of dread permeates the film, helped by the slow pace and limited colour palette. The moments of actual violence happen sparingly, but the impact of each incident is heightened by the expectation that yet more violence could happen at any moment.

The film was incredibly unsettling and it left me with the unpleasant feeling that I needed to go and scrub my soul clean afterwards. However, it was mesmerising enough to keep me watching even as I was repulsed by it, so I suppose I shall say that I think it is worth watching. Even if it is just to see that Brad Pitt can still act.

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