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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
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Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Brad Pitt
Casey Affleck
Sam Shepard
Mary-Louise Parker
Jeremy Renner
Paul Schneider
Sam Rockwell
Zooey Deschanel.
Directors
Andrew Dominik.
Screenwriters
Robert Hansen.
Running Time
160 minutes

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The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
The good, the bad and the ridiculously handsome.


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Plot
As his gang and legend begin to fragment, train-robber and outlaw Jesse James (Pitt) is a haunted man. He can feel his death approaching, but can he foresee that fringe gang-member Robert Ford (Affleck) will be the man to pull the trigger?


Review
The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
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Long of gestation, long of length, and throat-dryingly long of title (word of mouth will require a deep breath), Brad Pitt’s new Western has likely left perplexed studio execs somewhat long in the face. They were surely banking on a sassy gunslinger, with Mr. Jolie whirling his Colt like a majorette. What the Australian director of Chopper, Andrew Dominik - in only his second movie - has delivered is a slow, meditative poem that harkens to the verdant sprawl of Terrence Malick’s Days Of Heaven. Thrill-seekers may want to apply elsewhere.

Dominik is cultivating a not-unfamiliar revisionist evocation of America’s formative days. Even if it doesn’t resonate across an entire career like Unforgiven, it shares that film’s contemplative power and unmaking of myth. Even if it isn’t as thrusting as McCabe & Mrs. Miller, it shares its sepia-hued authenticity and indistinct morality. Even if it isn’t as ironic and outrageous as the Spaghettis, it too is something to do with death. And even if it isn’t as squib-splattering as Peckinpah, it answers to his elegiac heart. This
is the Western as psychological landscape, where unheroic souls drift toward divided destinies.

The source is Ron Hansen’s fictional recreation of the chaotic events that brought James-gang-hopeful Robert Ford (Affleck) to shoot his iconic leader in the back as he dusted the frame of a picture. Dominik faithfully matches the book’s shapelessness: like the messy throes of history it is made up of shards and slivers, strands of plot that loosely knot together. But beneath this rambling, talkative style - nudged onward by a lyrical narration from an uncredited storyteller - can be felt the inexorable drift towards the assassination, towards death.

To fulfil his mordant vision, Dominik hired Coens regular Roger Deakins to paint a melancholic beauty of weather-swept horizons and desolate farmhouses in post-Civil War Kansas and Missouri. Apart from the crystalline blue of Pitt’s eyes, the film appears drained of true colour, to be left bronze and faded like those haunting daguerrotypes of frock-coated gents beneath whose glazed expressions hid murder. The sensation is one of a spell or dream. It never gathers momentum like a thriller, yet the menace
is inescapable as scenes travel disturbing and unpredictable paths. Any gunfire is scarce and  unpleasantly vindictive, while the only outlawry we witness is a brutal night-time train robbery that frames the gang as no more than wanton thieves. Dominik is seeking the point at which history, populated by tearaways and psychopaths, translates into folklore. What creates mythology out of dastardly killers?

As an actor, Pitt is most effective stalking the fringes of sanity - see how the jangling nerves of Twelve Monkeys and Fight Club made him luminous - so he is fittingly cast as Jesse James. Both are men unable to calculate the full meaning of their celebrity, another of the film’s preoccupations. James parses his notoriety in newspapers and observes the edgy devotion of his gang, especially Ford, but keeps a distance from reality as if he has one eye on the hell to come. When Pitt loosens the hinges a fraction, out spills a gurgling, terrifying laugh like a death knell. It is arguably the most nervy and effective thing he has ever done.

Yet the honour of lead falls to  Affleck as the strangely juvenile, certainly unstable sap Robert Ford. In the murky folds of his prickly 19 year-old mind, hero-worship (there is just a tease of homoeroticism) of James has become garbled with an idea of establishing his own fame. Affleck brilliantly gives life to this oddball weakling born for humiliation yet desperate for significance - the echoes of Lee Harvey Oswald and Mark Chapman must be intentional. “You know what I expected?” recalls Ford, long after the titular event has left him reviled and desolate. “Applause.” It isn’t morality that divides the likes of James and Ford; it is PR.


Verdict
An extraordinary and visionary study of a legendary murderer’s famous fate, within touching distance of Oscars.


Reviewed by Ian Nathan

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
Empire Star Rating

Masterpiece

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is a stunningly beautiful and poetic movie, with amazing performances, a great script, magnificent direction, wonderful music, and truly gorgeous cinematography. One of, if not the greatest western made so far this century. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Mr Gittes at 00:53, 13 February 2013 | Report This Post


"You know what I expected... applause."

Andrew Dominik's searingly beautiful vision serves as a poignant and thought-provoking portrait of the legendary outlaw. For the first time, a director has captured Jesse James' humanity on celluloid, showing us a man, not just some phony action hero. Accented by exquisite performances and a haunting score, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is an unforgettable film of immense, undeniable power. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by movienut707 at 00:59, 14 December 2012 | Report This Post


Depressing

Beautifully shot and well acted. I had to put on something cheerful for myself to watch after this. God it's dull ! The 5 star review and recent Empire special on Brad's best hits forced me to check this out. Alike Lost in Translation, maybe I just don't get it. Maybe I'm too into adreniline fueled fizz bang hollywood schmokum. Even so I can't ever imagine myself ever wanting to watch this drivel again. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by danielthompson99 at 16:00, 29 September 2012 | Report This Post


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford Review

On the strength of two fantastic lead performances from Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck The Assassination of Jesse James is an expertly crafted period piece which shows writer, director Andrew Dominik's love for the genre, and and insightful look at one of the enduring figures of American lore. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 22:24, 03 March 2012 | Report This Post


Exellent

This has the be one of the best westerns ever made. Brad and Casey are exellent. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 09:22, 28 March 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Absolutely Excellent - Dumb Dumbs don't get it thought

Pitt is excellent, a very strong, appealing performance. Affleck is also excellent, but in a different way. Since you know the character's final motive going into the film (Hint: its in the title), the Affleck made his character interesting by starting the film as a young fanboy and then gradually turning him into a jelous rival, while still maintaining some childish qualities in his performance, along with an extremely creepy feeling he has about him. Cinematography was gorgeous and the 2 and ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Wizzums at 02:20, 14 December 2010 | Report This Post


Absolutely Excellent - Dumb Dumbs don't get it thought

Another great performance by Brad Pitt, who I love And Casey Affleck with this and Gone Baby Gone making him a really interesting actor (more than his brother, who is a wonderful director). And Andrew Dominik follows up beautifully from Chopper ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by monkeyhumour at 21:57, 25 September 2010 | Report This Post


One of the best westerns of recent times

This masterpiece has so many unbelievably good performances and such gorgeous cinematography that it is damn near impossible for anybody to not like it, apart from people I class as gore-seeking-retards who don't appreciate a piece of art when they see one. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by !xHoTRoDx! at 12:18, 14 May 2010 | Report This Post


Could a film be so visually appealing yet so dull

You would expect a film with Brad Pitt to be partially interesting (couple of gripping scenes, maybe some action) but this wasnt. Individually the actors were superb and the cinematography was very appealing, but the plot took 2 stars off this film. Perfect example that the plot is everything. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by LFCLavery at 23:42, 06 February 2010 | Report This Post


Supreme. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by evildave69 at 15:33, 20 August 2009 | Report This Post


I thought it was incredibly dull. I didn't even enjoy Sam Rockwell's presence, and that says something... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by sweetladybrick at 19:51, 23 July 2009 | Report This Post


The assasination of jesse james by the coward robert ford

A very good film. The beggining is superb; the ending is superb. Just the bits in the middle are slow. The cinematography is beutiful and the acting certainly cannot be critisised ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Blue Ryan at 19:51, 03 February 2009 | Report This Post


Superb!

i thought this film was absolutely amazing. The leading performances from Brad Pitt and Cassey Affleck were amazing and without a doubt oscar worthy and so much of the films brilliance is down to those 2 performances but even when they arent dominating the screen there is a fantastic supporting cast. it also directed and shot beautifully by andrew dominik and roger deakins as well as having a killer story and a brilliant script which kept me engaged throughout the whole story-line. This isn't an... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by THE DALTONATOR at 07:39, 25 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

L: Vitamin F   I said there were 'too many'...I was trying to imply that 'some' are ok, but 'too many' are, well, too many. Feels a bit like 'let's linger a while longer becuase it makes this look more profound' just for the sake of it. Just my opinion. Thanks for pointing out the art fact btw ote] hehe, don;'t worry i'm known round ere for my total and complete love for Jesse James ... More

Posted by richCie at 11:22, 23 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

Affleck and cinematography aside, it bored me. Doubt I'll ever watch it again. Probably the most over-rated film of the Noughties. ... More

Posted by CORLEONE at 09:31, 23 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

watched it at the cinema and have just watched it again on dvd, i really liked it before but it gets so much better with the second veiwing, details thhat were missed before came up and it was easier to follow certain parts of the story, Affleck and Pitt are superb but i do think that Sam Rockwell ( very underrated actor) plays an exceptional part in the film as the worried older brother who has to come to turns with his actions and the actions of the ones he loves dear. Im sure its been said... More

Posted by the sangypange at 01:33, 23 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

  I said there were 'too many'...I was trying to imply that 'some' are ok, but 'too many' are, well, too many. Feels a bit like 'let's linger a while longer becuase it makes this look more profound' just for the sake of it. Just my opinion.     Thanks for pointing out the art fact btw  ... More

Posted by Vitamin F at 10:57, 22 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

L: Vitamin F   ul cinematography,antly acted but...I hated the intrusion of the narration, which I felt ruined the flow of an already stilted narrative (if that makes sense). At times this felt quite a bit longer than its 2.5 hour running time, and as well-crafted as it is, it's not something that I feel I would ever wish to revisit in its entirety again. y lingering 'artsy' shotsdid nothing for me but pad out that damn running time, and I genuinely thought that if several of the s... More

Posted by richCie at 22:04, 21 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

  Beautiful cinematography, brilliantly acted but...I hated the intrusion of the narration, which I felt ruined the flow of an already stilted narrative (if that makes sense). At times this felt quite a bit longer than its 2.5 hour running time, and as well-crafted as it is, it's not something that I feel I would ever wish to revisit in its entirety again. Too many lingering 'artsy' shots which did nothing for me but pad out that damn running time, and I genuinely thought that if sever... More

Posted by Vitamin F at 16:56, 21 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE:

Picked it up at Zavvi for 5 dvd's for £30. It was the double disc edition and the dvd cover stood out alone. We did watch 3:10 to Yuma a few days before which I'm sure is another thread so had some comparison issues. Have to say very surprised. All in all very good film and acting was superb. Brad Pitt does give him the edge I'm sure the real Jesse James had and Casey Affleck you just feel so sorry for. You can just about imagine the States at that time with the dialogue they have. People tryin... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bristolbluebear at 21:24, 02 January 2009 | Report This Post


Brilliantly acted out...thought Brad Pitt did an amazing job. The special effects and some of the shots were magnificant....but....it was quite hard to follow at some bits...thats my only critisism. Overall a GREAT film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Chimene at 22:23, 30 December 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Wow

I fell asleep half way through, however it was simply because I was knackered from a boozing session... I thought Casey Affleck was superb; same for Gone Baby Gone.  Very good movie, not quite as effortless to sit through as some have pointed out, but worth an audience.  A slow burner. ... More

Posted by Drone at 12:20, 29 December 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Wow

L: robotbobby I enjoyed it. It was boring sometimes, but mostly because I was sleepy when I was watching it (what?)... anyway, my major contribution to this thread: I liked it, but not sure if it was worth buying since I doubt I'd watch it again. say though the book style DVD case is gorgeous.ote] hell yeh it is! :) ... More

Posted by richCie at 22:54, 27 December 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Wow

I enjoyed it. It was boring sometimes, but mostly because I was sleepy when I was watching it (what?)... anyway, my major contribution to this thread: I liked it, but not sure if it was worth buying since I doubt I'd watch it again. I gotta say though the book style DVD case is gorgeous. ... More

Posted by robotbobby at 00:08, 22 December 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Wow

Once "the deed" was done and I was horrified to notice half an hour left to run, expecting some padded out Return of the King horseshit. The rise, fall and eventual outcome for Robert Ford might well be the most beautifully told half hour of story telling since the start of Chopper when he's in nick. It's just so mesmerising how someone can go from stage play superstar to one of the most hated, then eventually shotgun blasted, villains, without actually doing anything inparticular during that r... More

Posted by DanCurley at 22:23, 21 December 2008 | Report This Post


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