April 10, 2008

Mini-review: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

(CCLaP publishes mini-reviews of both books and movies on a regular basis, none lasting more than a few hundred words. Click here for the full list.)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (movie; 2007)
Written by Andrew Dominik, from the novel by Ron Hansen
Directed by Andrew Dominik

Of all the buzz-inspiring Oscar nominees of last year's film season, perhaps none was more surprising than the awkwardly-titled The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford -- it was adapted and directed by Andrew Dominik, who before this had only one other major credit to his name, an obscure Australian feature called Chopper from nearly a decade ago; from a dense and moody novel (and PEN/Faulkner finalist) by Ron Hansen from the early 1980s that is just as obscure; concerning a semi-forgotten Civil War criminal that few outside of the American Midwest have ever heard of in the first place. Oh, and it has the maddeningly slow pace of a pretentious art film, and runs almost three hours as well. Did I mention that it runs almost three hours as well? And indeed, you're almost guaranteeing yourself a frustrating experience by renting out Jesse James now that it's out on DVD, a needlessly repetitive snoozer plot-wise where the best parts of the script are clearly the lengthy voiceovers that Dominik very obviously lifted word-for-word from the original novel itself.

So why did people go so nuts for this movie in the first place, and why am I ultimately recommending it too? Well, that's because of a subject being constantly talked about here at CCLaP -- it is a visually stunning movie, one of the most striking films I've seen in the last five years in fact, and fans of such films say that this alone can make one worth watching, despite a weak script or wooden acting. Granted, it's not the best situation one can have in the arts, to have a project on your hands that is rich in one aspect but lacking in another; but I'm merely talking here about whether such a movie can ultimately be worth your time, or if they're always a waste of time. Ultimately I'm glad that I spent the three hours I did to watch Jesse James (or, er, two hours -- I watched a lot of it on fast-forward), but in the end I enjoyed the experience for a different reason than I enjoy a truly great film; in this case it was more like enjoying a slowly-morphing exquisite still photograph, like having an astonishing view naturally framed by the borders of a window (for example) and then spending an afternoon lazily staring out that window.

I don't think there's anything wrong at all with enjoying a film for this reason and in this way, but I also think there's a lot of people out there unable or unwilling to enjoy a film this way, and for them Jesse James is going to drive them as freaking nuts as that crazy ex-lover of theirs from college who kept making them watch all those stupid Jim Jarmusch films in the middle of the night. (Oh, the things we will do to get laid as undergraduates, I'm telling you.) If you're a person not naturally swept up into the power of pure visual images, you do yourself a favor by skipping this movie; for those who enjoy such things, though, this is definitely a three-hour journey worth making.

Out of 10: 7.7

Filed by Jason Pettus at 11:16 AM, April 10, 2008. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |