Jesse James...

Complete Title:
The Assassination of Jesse James
by the Coward Robert Ford
Director: Andrew Dominik

Despite Brad Pitt’s highly publicized and surprising win as Best Actor from the Venice Film Festival for his role as Jesse James, the film with the ten word title (a marquee nightmare) belongs to Casey Affleck. In the past, Casey has turned in fine if mostly understated supporting roles in independent movies but in 2007 with a role in this film and his brother Ben’s directorial effort Gone Baby Gone, he’s ready for his close-up.

Recalling the introspective, sensitive and painful emotions expressed by Dean in the 50’s or Newman in the 60’s, his role as Robert Ford also brings to mind the performance that launched his good friend and brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix in the 90’s in Van Sant’s To Die For. While the burden of a title that sums up the climax of the movie is that the audience knows exactly what’s going to happen (also because it’s the stuff of American infamy), clocking in at an exhaustive one hundred and sixty minutes admittedly wears on the patience of audiences who recently enjoyed the faster paced 3:10 to Yuma and weren’t game for a Sergio Leone styled western opus, we are enraptured due to the impressive performances of a cast filled with character actors and the lush cinematography by Roger Deakins.

Deakins who has served as the frequent collaborator on Coen Brothers movies with his exquisite photography (the only saving grace in The Man Who Wasn’t There, for example) has dazzled audiences for decades but some of the visuals in Jesse James will leave you breathless with their artistry by blurring the edges of the shots like we’re in the middle of an optometrist’s shop playing with lenses to better study certain scenes and getting us lost in the western landscape (with Canada standing in as America).

However, the acting and the visuals can’t make up for the bloated running time that had audiences shifting in their seats after only twenty minutes of slowly paced scenes that were summed up by The Hollywood Reporter as follows, “pointlessly long takes, repetitive scenes, grim Western landscapes and mumbled, heavily accented dialogue,” coupled with their belief that, “word of mouth may kill the movie faster than Robert Ford killed Jesse James.”

While I do agree that the complicated and as Ebert pointed out homoerotic relationship between hero-worshipping Ford with his idol the abusive Jesse James, whom Pitt intriguingly plays as bipolar in a stereotype busting role, does get a bit lost throughout, the turns by the rest of the cast including Sam Rockwell (always a joy) as Charley Ford and Paul Schneider as Dick Liddl help add fuel to New Zealand writer/director Andrew Dominik’s adaptation of the novel by Ron Hansen.

Although it’s worth the theatrical investment just to see Deakins’ majestic sequences on a large screen, staying highly caffeinated may help keep you awake through this film that does rival Days of Heaven and The New World for ponderous, leisurely and overly contemplative scene after scene that’s an admirable if unsuccessful antidote to another summer of Guy Ritchie-esque MTV action films.