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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Warner Bros. // R // February 5, 2008
List Price: $27.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted February 5, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

While Andrew Dominik's 2007 western The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford didn't exactly set the box office on fire during its brief theatrical run despite the presence of Brad Pitt in a lead role, it did garner some deserved critical acclaim. Despite the lengthy running time of roughly two hours and forty minutes, this slow burning drama certainly deserves a wider audience than it seems to have found.

The film follows the last days of Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and his gang. A boy who grew up idolizing James, Robert (Casey Affleck) Ford, gets his chance to ride alongside his boyhood hero when his brother, Charley Ford (Sam Rockwell), joins the ranks of James' cohorts. Robert soon finds out, however, that James and his gang are no heroes and in soon enough, he decides he needs to kill Jesse James. Of course, there's more to the story than that but they're better off left to a viewing of the picture than a plot synopsis. Let it suffice to say that despite the fact that we all know how the story is going to end, there are plenty of reasons why this film deserves to be seen.

First and foremost are the performances. Brad Pitt does an excellent job portraying Jesse James as a bit bi-polar. This Jesse James will not only shoot a man in cold blood if he feels he needs to but he'll also do his best to care for his family members. Both sides of James' demeanor come to life through Pitt's turn as the American West's most infamous outlaw, and the film is all the better for it. Just as good, if not even a little bit better, than Pitt is Casey Affleck as Robert Ford. He's outstanding in the film as we watch his hero worship soon turn to fear and disillusionment. His is an incredibly emotional performance and if his work in this picture is any indication, we should all expect very good things from him as he matures as an actor. Supporting roles from Rockwell as Charley Ford and Mary-Louise Parker as Zee James add some class to an already excellent cast and Sam Shepherd's work as Frank James is also very strong.

The picture's cinematography is also excellent. Roger Deakins, who also shot 2007's No Country For Old Men for the Cohen Brothers, has done an amazing job here as the picture looks fantastic. He's made sure that plenty of long, lingering shots of the countryside contrast nicely with the more claustrophobic interior shots used for a few key scenes while the lighting emphasizes the various facial features of the cast members to heighten tension. Also worth mentioning is the excellent, minimalist score courtesy of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Reminiscent of Heil and Klimek's equally atmospheric work on HBO's late, lamented Deadwood, the somber string-heavy music is much more reminiscent of Ellis' Dirty Three than Cave's Bad Seeds (the one piece in which Cave appears and provides vocals not withstanding) and it suits the film perfectly.

Those expecting a shoot'em up or an action intensive western will probably disappointed by the deliberate pacing and relatively slow nature of the picture but within the long running time is a fantastic story. Granted, there may be discrepancies in the historical accuracy of certain parts of the film and in ways that certain characters are portrayed but there's enough right about the film that we have no problem accepting that it could have happened this way. We're given ample opportunity to understand why Robert Ford comes to admire James and when his affections are ultimately shunned it's not hard to understand why he reacts the way he does. Some may be put off by the voice over narration or the pacing but anyone who appreciates expert character development, beautiful photography and a genuinely good story should give this film the time of day. Despite a few slow moments and some editing inefficiencies The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford turns out to be one of the most rewarding films of the last few years and one of the finest westerns of the last decade.

The DVD

Video:

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford looks very good on Warner's 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are appropriately rendered with a lot of browns and grays used to give the picture a fairly natural look. A fairly dark film in both nature and tone, the transfer still contains a lot of fine detail in both the foreground and the background of the picture. Skin tones look lifelike and natural while black levels remain strong and stable. There's some very, very slight edge enhancement visible in a few scenes but no problems with compression artifacts or anything but the finest print damage. Overall, this is a very nice effort on WB's part.

Sound:

Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks are provided in English, French and Spanish with optional subtitles provided in the same three languages and closed captioning provided in English only. Audio quality is excellent across the board. The dialogue, some of which is fairly hushed, is always audible and the score sounds nice and ominous. Surrounds are used to add atmosphere and to make the few sporadic moments of violence and action contained in the film sound appropriately intense.

Extras:

Aside from animated menus, chapter stops, and a few trailers that play before the menus load, this DVD is completely barebones. While this is likely due to the film's lengthy running time, it's a disappointment never the less as it would have been nice to hear from the cast and crew who created this film or to be given some historical context against which to compare the film.

Final Thoughts:

Despite the complete lack of extra features, this is a disc worth looking for. The transfer is very strong and the audio quite good. As for the movie itself, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is a gritty, earthy western that features some great performances and some stellar cinematography. The only reason this release isn't highly recommended is the lack of extras makes one wonder if a double-dip won't soon fairly soon down the road.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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