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Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The


Stars: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Sam Shepard, Jeremy Renner, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Schneider, Michael Parks, Ted Levine

Director: Andrew Dominik

Times were when the Western was a guarantee of sustained action. Nowadays, that's left to James Bond and Jason Bourne. Pretension drips from every frame of today's horse-operas and the dialogue at the start of this account of the last days of the famous outlaw tells you what to expect: 'His children knew their father's legs; they knew the sting of his moustache on their cheeks.'

Pitt as Jesse stares moodily into a soft-focus distance as new gang member Bob Ford (a mannered performance by Affleck) sets out on his assassin's path. 'Can't figure you out,' muses Jesse. 'Don't know whether you want to be like me, or if you want to be me.' The answer, as history tells us, isn't quite either.

Shot in shades of brown by camerawork that reminds you of 1970s' Westerns, this isn't the best (or by any means the worst) of the Jesse James stories, but it certainly is the longest. There are a few bursts of action, but many more close-up shots that invite you to work out what's going on inside people's heads.

Not for the first time in Hollywood Western lore, several of the actors are considerably older than the roles they play: Pitt, at 44, plays Jesse at 34, 32-year-old Affleck plays 19-year-old Ford, and 64-year-old Sam Shepard is considerably longer in the tooth than the real Frank James. Still, I guess the outlaw life did age a man. Meanwhile, the girls, Mary-Louise Parker, Zooey Deschanel and Alison Elliott, have almost nothing to do, and the best performance comes from Rockwell, by the far the most convincing character on show, as Ford's equivocal brother Charley.

Pitt's Jesse is far from sympathetic (he shoots one man in the back) and, although that may be how it was, it detracts from his stature as the film's central figure.

David Quinlan

USA 2007. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Technicolor.
160 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 25 Nov 2007