Brad Pitt gets to play the sensationalized outlaw opposite Casey Affleck (Ocean's 13) in this ponderous, but visually resplendent picture by Australian helmer Andrew Dominik. One has to listen closely to some difficult accents in this attudinized, conversational piece.
In The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, the physically and emotionally wounded family man (in his mid 30s here) is seen as more than a crazed killer, as he set up unfinished jobs, sheltered under a false identity.
The setting of 1881 has nearly all of James's posse deceased and wise brother Frank, a brief turn for Sam Shepherd, leaving the dangerous gambit after one final train robbery.
James Carville has his moment as a Missouri governor who offers a bounty for the psychotic criminal as James is concerned about being done in by one of his own.
Affleck's stuttering Bob Ford is 19 years old and has gotten into James's inner circle by way of his older brother Charley, a morose Sam Rockwell. Bob has gotten into the legend of Jesse from dime novels about him.
The titular event occurs well over halfway into the film and this pretentious adaptation of a 1982 novel by Ron Hansen. A scene during a bath offers some wry banter as there is insinuation into Ford's personal life.
The film has undergone many changes before its theatrical release, as the themes take on the elements of a man's long-reaching notoriety. The production elegantly recalls the work of noted directors like Robert Altman and Terence Malick (Days of Heaven), but this effort, at least by Pitt, isn't as effective as in last year's Babel. Even though he recently copped the Best Actor prize at the recent Venice Film Festival.
The somewhat ham-fisted direction doesn't seem to deter Affleck who has been in this sort of foray before with Matt Damon in Gus Van Sant's Gerry. He etches out a conflicted young man with a certain amount of low-key charisma who shot James in the back. Bob and Charley take center stage in the final act as they provide a re-enactment of the assassination. Even though there is some irony through the famous ballad of "that dirty little coward", this protracted nostalgia to the Western with its famous handsome jaded criminal feels more battle-tested and obscure than entertaining.