Skip to main content

The Assassination of Jesse James… (2007)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Feature film. (2007, 166 mins) IMDB

...Why do directors these days they have to make long movies?...

J

essie James, an historical figure, is a name I recognize as a Wild West outlaw type, but know nothing beyond that. I imagine many people can relate. How is it he's so famous?

I'm sure in my youth I've watched films where he was portrayed but I can't recall. I certainly never read anything about him that would bring about the fame. It has to be films. His name repeated in awe or in fear or both in the way other historical figures are immortalized. Cleopatra. Napoleon. Caesar.

In looking briefly at a bio of Jessie James there is nothing to admire. He killed at least seventeen men. Robbed banks and trains. He was a thug, a criminal. He died, as it should be, young--thirty-four years old--yet the name persists.

For whatever reason he's famous, but the second name in the title of this film, Robert Ford, is a nobody, that is until this film--a film that focuses on the decline of Jessie and his gang and his ultimate death by gun shot. Ford pulled the trigger.

I could use the word legend in describing James but I'm torn. On the one hand, he's mythical and mystery in the way legendary figures are, but he's scum and to my mind legend connotes admirable qualities. Criminals like him shouldn't be admired, but that's too naive. Politicians lie and cheat, and after they've died, we name parks and schools after them, Shakespeare writes plays about them and Hollywood makes movies.

That James should be killed, a wanted man, in his home, with his wife in the other room, and live on in stories, while his assassin is ridiculed and eventually murdered, even sentenced to hang for the shooting, is the ironic aspect of this true life story. It's the reason, I suspect, this film was made because it reflects on today's society.

People want fame and riches. That's what Ford sought in killing James, amongst retribution for his humiliation, and he had it for a moment, but instead of peace and happiness, it led to misery. That's the film in a nutshell but it takes two hours and forty minutes to tell it. Too long.

The director was in love with long panoramic shots of the sky filled with clouds. One is enough. Two, three, well...self-indulgent comes to mind.

Beyond the few scenes with horses and revolvers (six-shooters), there isn't much about the film that fits into the typical Hollywood Western. It's not an action film and we know a part of the ending based on the title. It's a film about James's decline and the arc of Ford.

Ford and James are the one-two, two-one characters of this story, yet Casey Affleck was nominated in the supporting category for the Oscars. The last twenty minutes of the film focuses on his life after he shot James. The film ends with his murder. That's a supporting role? Go figure.

One final note. The film includes a voice-over narrative that reminded me of a PBS documentary or the narrator from the television series THE WALTONS. I say again, it's not an action film. Think. It's cerebral.

Okay, it wasn't a final word. I should mention the editing and filming. Part of the reason the film is long is a choice of the director to have long takes. In one scene a group of local police ride in on horse to surround a farmhouse where one of the gang members is living. The camera sits by the house watching as they appear in the horizon and proceed down a snow-covered field. No cuts. It's the kind of style David Lean is known for and from another era. Today films don't hold the camera for very long. The mantra is cut, cut, cut. In the climax of BAD BOYS, the cuts happen every second! The rhythm is like a swaying metronome.

Posted 2009/02/25 at 19h04ET in Movie Commentary.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Day 5: Writing a Novel—The Deep Blue Hold

Monday, November 21st, 2016 No work on the novel on Day 4. Note: Unedited writings from my notebook for this novel. Square bracket items represent added comments.
At 18:31—Office ... if I use Leänne instead of Leanne how will people react... Y esterday was Sunday and I took it off, plus I was dealing with some mental health issues. I know this story is something that is simply a matter of putting in the time to make it happen. I’m supposed to be working on it as much as I can but I haven’t been doing that. Two main reasons. It’s been a while since I’ve worked on a story. Then there’s the issues of my mental health. Things happen. I get down and it impacts on my writing. I might be using it as an excuse, but it’s clearly something I need to deal with. I have to find a schedule I can work with. Perhaps I need to put this first and cut out other things. Not sure but I will figure it out. A name for the hero came to me. For the moment going with Leanne or is it Leanna? Should be Le…

Writing a Novel: The Deep Blue Hold–Introduction

Thursday, March 9th, 2017 ... I fight my insecurities and doubts and I withdraw farther away from people and life ... I n November 2016 I started work on a new novel with the working title: The Deep Blue Cage. A few weeks after I started, I stopped. I was feeling too depressed about everything including the idea of writing a new novel. It happens to me at various times, with varying degrees, and it is debilitating. The ultimate issue was: Why bother? Why bother write another novel no one will read and no one will care about. I also found I was dreading the writing process more and more. It was painful to think about. I walked away and focused on other things. Or tried to. That didn’t work either. I felt trapped and unsure where I should head, what I should do. I even asked the big question, what the hell is life about anyway. There’s no one answer to this question despite the proclamations of some and because I believe I can think critically, can reason, I look at it from many a…

Day 6: Writing a Novel—The Deep Blue Hold

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016 Note: Unedited writings from my notebook for this novel. Square bracket items represent added comments.
At 20:44—Office ... Lost at sea, she's rescued by a ship and wished she had never set foot on it.... N othing new on this story. Nothing came to me while I was sleeping or when on my errands. I thought something would come about, but nope. So be it. I have two chapters written. Not sure if they are any good but they are there. And so Chp. 3 to write. And I don’t see the scene because I’m not sure what should happen. The question is what is the cliffhanger. Nope. 3 about her, not the ship and crew. And I’ve already written the last line of the chapter. She wakes up and feels immense pain. Not sure if I should mention blood in the water. This chapter or the following. So it’s early dawn or not quite sunrise. And she’s in the cockpit unconscious. But how do I write it from her POV if she’s out. Hmmm. I can do it but should I do it? And I don’t w…