The Violence is Personal
The Jesse James family reviews Brad Pitt’s movie
In his movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Brad Pitt strips away the myth. He strips away the legend and lore. He strips away the western movie genre with all its gratuitous violence.
What Brad Pitt leaves us with is the man himself – Jesse James.
For anyone who wants to meet Jesse James on a personal level, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is the only Jesse James movie to see.
Before the Bloodshed
Jesse, Frank, and everyone around them knows that time has run out. As the inevitable draws closer, everyone is left to grapple with one’s own self. In most spare, clear, and simple images, we see Jesse with his family. Jesse with his cousins, and Jesse with his assassins. Jesse grows more lonely and alone. His star is burning out like a comet. Everyone will go down with him.
And so it went, Jesse was increasingly cavalier. Merry, moody, fey, unpredictable. He camouflaged his depressions and derangements with masquerades of extreme cordiality, courtesy, and goodwill towards others. But even as he jested or tickled his boy in the ribs, Jesse would look over at Bob with melancholy eyes as if the two were meshed in an intimate communication.
When Jesse’s time comes, the viewer turns to witness his death.
As if Jesse had detached himself from life support, we step back to watch and to experience Jesse’s destiny.
In Brad Pitt’s movie, the killing of Jesse James is leaden, moving, and eloquent. Jesse leaves us, dead as cold, in our shudders and tears.
As T.J. Stiles’ book Jesse James, Last Rebel of the Civil War marked a turning point in the writing of Jesse James history, Pitt’s movie marks a turning point in movies about Jesse James.
Finally, there is a movie where we experience Jesse James as a human being, in his own character and personality. The legend, mythology, and lore are but his resurrection
Dorothy Evans: Why did you kill him?
Robert Ford: Well, he was gonna kill me.
Dorothy Evans: So you were scared and that’s the only reason?
Robert Ford: Yeah. And the reward money.
Dorothy Evans: Do you want me to change the subject?
Robert Ford: You know what I expected? Applause.
[laughs to himself]
Robert Ford: I was only 20 years old then. I couldn’t see how it would look to people. I was surprised by what happened. They didn’t applaud.
Brad Pitt’s movie is also about the collision of fame with reality, in the person of a sycophant. The kind of hanger-on the James family has experienced ever since Ford murdered Jesse. MORE
Academy Award Performances
Two performances in Brad Pitt’s movie merit Academy Awards. But, will voting members of the Academy know why? MORE
Crackerjack Casting & Clinkers
Sam Shepard as Frank James in his retirement draws in the audience by his sheer physical presence. Then he leaves us, wanting more of the man. MORE
Director/Screenwriter Andrew Dominik & Author Ron Hansen
In the first test screenings of this film when it was four hours in length, this movie was hailed by movie insiders as a masterpiece. Andrew Dominik was elevated as the master architect of the film’s poetic and visionary experience. MORE
Inside edition Interviews Eric F. James
TV’s Inside edition called me. They wanted a review of the new Jesse James movie, starring Brad Pitt. “Tell us about it from the family view.” The James family’s experience with Hollywood and Jesse James movies, I said, always has proved a misadventure, and never kind. They couldn’t be more thrilled. “Great! If you hate the movie, say what you hate about it.“ MORE
DOWNLOAD the Screenplay
A free download of the screenplay is available HERE.
SAMPLE the Soundtrack
Fans of Brad Pitt’s movie are equally as enthusiastic about the film’s soundtrack. Written and composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, each of the 19 tracks captures the essence of the film while leaving the viewer with a desire to listen to the movie’s music on its own. Here’s the opening track to the film.
About the Movie
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford premiered in New York, September 19, 2007 following previews at the Venice Film Festival & Toronto Film Festival. The film opened in limited release on September 21, 2007 in New York, Los Angeles, Austin, and Toronto.
Waiting on the Extended Cut
The film in theater release runs 160 minutes. An extended cut, which played at the Venice Film Festival, runs 193 minutes. The preview audiences viewed a cut four hours long. Filmographer Roger Deakins believes The Criterion Collection will never issue a full uncut version of the film. Director Andrew Dominik said, “I don’t think Criterion are interested in it. I don’t think that they feel it’s significant enough for them.”
The Jesse James family and dedicated fans disagree. They enthusiastically support a Criterion Collection release of a full extended cut. Until then, they remain deeply disappointed.
The International Movie Database rates this film 7.5/10. The film garnered twenty-five awards and sixty-seven nominations, including nominations for two Oscars.
Rotten Tomatoes gives this film an audience score of 75%. “On the strength of its two lead performances Assassination is an expertly crafted period piece, and an insightful look at one of the enduring figures of American lore.”
The original copy of this movie review first appeared on Stray Leaves in 2007. Technology additions to the Stray Leaves website caused a corruption of the original webpage since. The content of the original webpage is replicated here completely in June 2020 with the addition of some new content features.