Beautiful. But halfway through this movie I wondered why I wasn't enjoying it. Then I remembered, I'm not overly fond of Westerns. - Strangely, it had never occurred to me that this movie about Jesse James would indeed be a Western.
In fact, this is really two movies glommed into one; a movie about Jesse James and an extended dénouement about the life of Robert Ford after the assassination. The first two thirds of this longish movie consisted of a rambling drift through the end of James' life, filled with too many characters and no clear sense of motivation on anyone's part. I often lost track of the relationship between the many men, their feuds and their alliances. By the time things became (somewhat) clearer, I had already begun watching the hands on my watch tick by.
The cinematography was beyond gorgeous, so at least there was something to keep my interest during labyrinthine periods of plot exposition. I love shots of wheatfields in the wind and clouds wafting through the sky as much as the next guy, but it all starts to get a bit taxing when the rest of the movie is dragging.
Yet when the assassination did finally happen, instead of expecting the movie to wrap up, I became increasingly engrossed in the story of Robert Ford. I wanted to know more of his life and what became of him. It seemed that this last third was the movie the director really wanted to make, and the Jesse James story was appended to make the movie sell-able. When the movie did end, I thought it was almost a shame, because Ford was really the much more interesting character of the two.
This movie has Oscar-buzz written all over it. Brad Pitt nomination for sure -since he seems about due- but Casey Affleck is the real star of this show. (Or maybe best supporting actor Oscar to the wheatfields blowing in the wind).
I give the clouded, confusing Assassination of Jesse James two Colt pistols out of five, purely based on the cinematography, whereas The Coward Robert Ford gets five out of five for a complete re-engagement of my interest in this tale of a complicated life.