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The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)

by on 2012/06/18

“I ain’t never seen you without your guns, neither.”

* * * *

I don’t get back to my home province of Alberta very often.  Sometimes I miss it. Happily, movies like The Assassination of Jesse James lets me visit from the gun-free comfort of my adoptive Ontario home.

Ok, not everyone I grew up in Alberta with had a rifle.

They had 10 rifles. Or more.

Our walks in the fall were more often than not punctuated with the hot whoosh of bullets flying across our path. Made us feel alive (what with the not getting shot).

Alberta. I weirdly miss it.

The Assassination of Jesse James is a walk across the fields and valleys I know well. Skies big and blue that went on forever. This movie gives me a chance to see movie stars inhabit the world of my childhood memories.

Like my childhood, The Assassination of Jesse James has a thing or two to do with guns.

This is another post-modern Western fallen from the boughs of the same family tree as The Missouri Breaks. More about mental illness and lizard-brained motives than horses and bullets, The Assassination of Jesse James is a quiet, dark dirge about the life of the great outlaw Jesse James.

Like the place of my birth, there’s a bleakness to this film. Sparse. Barren. Rugged. There are huge swathes of silences. Coughs echo against clapboard walls. Beaten boots pound over worn wooden floors.  There’s a soft whisper from a prairie filled with long, dry grass.

Brad Pitt (Interview with a Vampire) plays Jesse James.  The 2007 film chronicles the final crimes and the last few months leading up to James’ death.

Joined by a gang convicts and farm “rubes,” James pulls a brutal train robbery. And every day after the heist, James imagines he is pursued by law men. Enemies are everywhere. His gun is always in hand.

One of the sidekicks is the “coward” Robert Ford (Casey Affleck). Suffering from a serious case of hero worship, Robert Ford  is Mark David Chapman to Jesse James’ Lennon. Pockets stuffed with newspaper clippings of the outlaw’s exploits, Robert is a collector, a fan boy, working overtime to cozy up to the short-tempered James.

With his brother Charley (Sam Rockwell), Ford is a willing accomplice to James’ heists. There’s no joy or acts of Wild West daring in these criminal exploits, there is only petty meanness and violence.

Pitt is effective as the paranoiac James. Channeling just a touch of his braying sociopath Early Grayce from Kalifornia, Jesse James is portrayed as wildly unpredictable, twitchy and vicious. James has moments of lucidity: “No. I haven’t been acting correctly. I can’t hardly recognize myself sometimes when I’m greased. I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who’s gone so wrong. I’ve been becoming a problem to myself.”

There are interesting performances from Rockwell and Affleck as well. They too are tinged with the same gloom and desperation as the rest of the film. The only break from that gasping depression is silver-tongued philanderer Dick Liddil (Paul Schneider) who delivers such bon mots as, “Poetry don’t work on whores” and “You can hide things in vocabulary.” Words to live by.

Well filmed, well acted, this Andrew Dominik film shot in my home and native land is worth your time.

Mostly, guns, gloom and huge tracts of land. It is just like coming home.

* * * *

160 minutes

Rated R for bloody violence, nasty words about women and a tryst in an outhouse (which we will file under ‘ewww’)

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