The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

…is the best movie I’ve seen all year. Which is kind of impressive, because I’m pretty sure I saw The Queen earlier this year, and that is a pretty damn good movie.

You should stop reading here if you’re not interested in spoilers. (He shoots him!) I’m too lazy right now to deal with that whole ‘more’ feature.

I highly recommend seeing this one on the big screen. I don’t always do that, and I’ve definitely seen movies in the theater that I wish I’d waited to rent. Partly this is because I have the attention span of a gnat, and partly this is because certain movies didn’t give me anything spectacular on a larger-than-life screen. This movie, however, has some gorgeous cinematography. There’s a scene near the beginning that is, quite frankly, breathtaking.

The narration walks that fine line between “totally annoying” and “a Wes Anderson movie.” (I was actually totally convinced that the narrator had also narrated The Royal Tenenbaums, until I remembered that was Alec Baldwin.) It also offers up some facts about James that are sort of unsubstantiated by the film itself, like that he blinked much more than a normal person. (I mean, maybe he did, but Brad Pitt sure didn’t.)

The acting is quite superb. Pitt puts in yet another fine Hi! I’m kind of crazy! performance, while the younger (and, let’s get serious, way better) Affleck is, at turns, lovesick, totally creepy, and painfully desperate. There are actually scenes in the first half of the movie where you’re a little uncomfortable, thinking, hey, wait a minute, is this another damn gay cowboy movie? But that quickly bleeds into, you know, the creepy and desperate stuff. In a nutshell, I had no problem quickly identifying Ford as The Villain, but I was simultaneously terrified by James.

Ultimately, I’d have to say the only drawback to this movie is its length. I’m pretty sure we were already pushing two hours at the assassination. Had the director (or producers, or whoever it is making these sorts of decisions) cut right there, I would have left the theater feeling profoundly depressed. The shooting scene is incredibly moving and clearly the emotional climax of the film; cutting it there would have made this a tragic epic on par with that other gay cowboy movie, only with a stronger punch line and less kissing. Instead, the filmmakers chose to provide more information about the Ford brothers, particularly Robert’s own murder, which really lessens the impact of the previous two hours.


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