Release Date(s)2007 (February 5, 2008)
Studio(s)Scott Free/Plan B (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: D
The problem with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is not the film itself. Once the film’s slow and muddled beginning (during which Jesse, his brother Frank and a gang of misfits prepare for one last train robbery) is over and the film’s intent becomes clear, it’s a fascinating experience watching Brad Pitt’s Jesse James, a man of conflicting emotions and impulses, become obsessed with eliminating gang members that he sees as disloyal at best and a danger to himself at worst. Robert Ford, at first a young man who virtually hero-worships Jesse and seeks his approval to validate his own life, becomes increasingly wary of Jesse’s feelings towards him and the path towards the eventual murdering of Jesse becomes inevitable.
Casey Affleck does a superb job portraying Ford; his facial emotions speak volumes and the subtle changes that he gradually introduces to fit his character’s increasingly fragile mental state as the film progresses are a pleasure to behold. Sam Shepard provides an effective if too-brief portrayal of Frank James (if only Jesse had seen through Robert Ford and treated him as dismissively as Frank does at the beginning of the film). The film is handsomely photographed by Roger Deakins and the spare music score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis really captures the film’s melancholy mood.
The standard definition DVD’s rendition of the film was quite satisfactory give what that medium is capable of, but the HD version (1080p 2.40:1) is barely so, given what a high definition presentation can deliver. It does improve on the image detail somewhat, but it has not excised the edge effects that were at times apparent on the DVD and video noise is apparent in some of the darker scenes. The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio is actually quite good, but I couldn’t get past the anemic gunshots. They sound like a duel of cap pistols. Any mono Warner film of the 1930s or 40s sounds much better in this regard. The only supplement on the disc is a lengthy documentary on the life of Jesse James, with little on the making of the film itself. That a special edition is coming in the future seems obvious to me and one would be well advised to wait for it rather than jump at this version.
- Barrie Maxwell