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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (review)

“I don’t know what it is about you, but the more you talk, the more you give me the willies.” So says one of the James gang to Robert Ford, whose syrupy-sweet quality we recognize today as the unctuousness of a stalker, and maybe even set off some alarm bells for Jesse James himself, star of America’s nascent pop culture that he was. Or maybe not. James is in semiretirement in the 1880s and paranoid with it — he sees Pinkerton detectives everywhere — but not paranoid enough: threats come from within his still loosely assembled gang, and the end of thieving means the rewards for turning in Jesse are all the more appealing. A measured, brooding meander through dreams of loyalty, shadows of treachery, and the particular psychoses of celebrity for those on both sides of stardom, this is a film alternately startling and melancholy, in which gunshots are never more than dull thuds, death is ugly and unheroic, and unlikely stars are born. The acclaim accruing around Brad Pitt’s (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) pensive performance as Jesse is well deserved, but who’da thunk Casey Affleck (Ocean’s Thirteen) would suddenly become a force to be reckoned with in his creepy, prickly Ford? [buy at Amazon]

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MPAA: rated R for some strong violence and brief sexual references

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb

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