“Assassination of Jesse James,” review by Susan Granger

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When a film’s running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes, it’s often because the writer is also directing – so there’s no one to tell him to cut out 40 minutes, or else!

Back in the 1870s, Jesse James (Brad Pitt) was the country’s most notorious outlaw. Celebrated in dime novels, his exploits were legendary. As years pass, most of the original gang members die and Jesse’s brother (Sam Shepard) retires. Hanging on the coattails of his older brother Charley (Sam Rockwell) and longing for acceptance is fawning, hero-worshipping 19 year-old Robert Ford (slyly played by Casey Affleck, Ben’s real-life younger brother). History records Ford as “the coward” who shot 34 year-old Jesse in the back, but the plot delves into the psyches of both gunslingers and what may – or may not – have precipitated that infamous murder.

Jesse James is said to have been charismatic and complex, but you’d never know it from Brad Pitt’s stolid, stoic performance, most remarkable for its pensive stillness – a trait which served Gary Cooper well in many Westerns.

Based on Ron Hansen’s novel, it’s self-indulgently adapted and languidly, pretentiously directed by Andrew Dominik, whose previous experience includes TV commercials, music videos and “Chopper” about the notorious Australian criminal Chopper Read. Perhaps it’s also not the best judgment to have the star (Brad Pitt) also serve as producer.

Since it’s so tedious to watch, the cameo by Washington pundit James Carville as the Governor of Missouri is a welcome diversion. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is a turgid 4, making one wonder why it takes such a long, long time to kill Jesse James.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.