I finally saw The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford a couple of weeks ago, but I keep forgetting to write a review. My brother-in-law Dave and I agreed that it was basically a very pretty, well acted History Channel special. And I should know because I’ve been watching a lot of Jesse James specials lately on PBS and the History Channel and whatnot.
The Assassination of Jesse James doesn’t really add anything to them except that it’s got a much larger budget and some fancy movie stars. It’s more or less a straightforward, accurate depiction of the last part of Jesse’s life, complete with a History Channel-esque narrator. There’s nothing particularly revelatory about him unless your previous exposure to him has been limited to American Outlaws.
That’s not to say that it’s a worthless movie though. It actually plays pretty well if you see it as a movie about Bob Ford. It does a fairly nice job of getting inside poor Bob’s head and letting you experience with him the fear and paranoia that being in Jesse’s gang must have entailed. At least in the middle half it does.
The first half hour or so has one of the coolest, moodiest train robberies I’ve even seen in a movie, but other than that it’s just a bunch of look-how-crazy-Jesse-is and isn’t-Bob-a-socially-retarded-dweeb. Where the movie really picks up is once Jesse starts suspecting that his men are plotting against him. At that point, everyone’s on edge, including the audience. Unless you really know your Jesse history, you never can tell when he’s going to snap and kill off a pal next. It’s makes for some gripping movie-watching.
Unfortunately, the film never really explains why Bob decided to betray Jesse. It implies it, certainly. Living in fear will grind on a fella, and Jesse never really gave Bob the respect Bob felt he deserved. But I missed seeing that one moment where Bob goes, “That’s it. I’ve had enough.” Maybe it was there and it was too subtle for me, but I kept thinking and wondering about it for the last half-hour of the movie and it kept me from being able to just enjoy the end as the paranoia got thicker and thicker until something had to crack. The lack of that one, defining moment is the movie’s big flaw and the reason I probably won’t buy it when it comes out on DVD in January.
Moving on to other Jesse news, Spout.com notices that Warner Brothers has finally decided to pay some attention to Assassination and has started taking out “For Your Consideration” ads for it. They’re promoting it for Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay, but I agree with Spout that they’re missing an opportunity by not pushing Casey Affleck for Best Supporting Actor. I’d argue that his role in the film should actually put him up for consideration for Best Actor, but Supporting Actor would probably be an easier win for him.
If other Jesse movies are interesting to you, VCI has a boxed collection of them on sale for ten bucks. The Great Jesse James Raid & Outlaws Collection features The Great Jesse James Raid, Renegade Girl, Return of Jesse James, Gunfire, Dalton Gang and I Shot Billy the Kid.
Bob Ford’s gun went up for auction last week. Not the one he shot Jesse with, but still pretty cool.
And I’ll wrap up with a cool story about Jesse versus a moustache-twirling rent-collector. I don’t know if it’s true, but I like it because Jesse gets to sort of play the hero in it while still remaining in character.
Next week I’ll tell you about a book that questions the DNA evidence around Jesse’s death. Maybe, as Jesse James vs. Machine Gun Kelley postulates, Bob didn’t really kill him as dead as everyone thought.