Monday, October 15, 2007
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford has received as many critical awards as its transcontinental name has letters. Some critics love to have their sense of established film conventions jostled significantly, but not this critic. The sprawling episodic plot never departed enough from its literary source (Ron Hansen's novel) to become a good movie in its own right. The haunting riff that signaled the transition between loosely connected episodes grows more clangy and less haunting with each hour that passes until the central story line--Robert Ford's obsession with the glory, power, and mystique of Jesse James, who he follows and eventually murders-- finally gets some steam about 2/3rds of the way through the movie.
The last third of the movie is worth the wait. With all the superfluous characters (and oddly well-developed) dead or in jail, we can focus on the primary psychological conflict between Jesse James and Robert Ford. It's compelling though the camera can never quite reach inside the character's heads the way Ron Hansen's prose can. The camera strains to tell us what's in Jesse James' head through close-up after agonizing close-up, but can never quite articulate it. That's the problem with adaptations that aren't adapted. The beauty of the original is lost in an extended effort to be faithful to the source.
I don't get all the fuss surrounding Brad Pitt's performance either. It was neither striking nor powerful. I guess people are just floored that he took a complicated role.