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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

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#1 of 10 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden



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Posted February 04 2008 - 06:12 AM

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Directed By: Andrew Dominik

Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Sam Shepard, Mary-Louise Parker, Paul Schneider, Jeremy Renner, Garret Dillahunt, Zooey Deschanel

Studio: Warner Brothers

Year: 2007

Rated: R

Film Length: 160 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 16:9

Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, English SDH

Release Date: February 5, 2008

The Film

In The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Brad Pitt plays legendary outlaw Jesse James near the end of his run with the James Gang. As the film opens, almost all of the gang members with whom Jesse and his brother Frank (Shepard) have previously ridden are dead or incarcerated. In the middle of planning a train robbery and assembling a new gang from the available riff raff, they are sought out by Bob Ford (Affleck) and his brother Charley (Rockwell). Fueled by the highly romanticized exploits of Jesse from dime novels, Bob has an obsessive interest in him which immediately makes Frank suspicious, but does not seem to bother Jesse too much. After the gang stages their robbery, they split up, with Frank leaving the gang for good. Much to Bob's delight, Jesse allows him to stay with him for a few more days before sending him off. The ensuing months are filled with pressure and paranoia as various gang members run afoul of each other while Missouri Governor Crittenden (Carville) redoubles his efforts to take Jesse down. For his part Jesse becomes increasingly volatile and dangerous as he becomes convinced that his former comrades are plotting against him due to the substantial price on his head. Bob's admiration for Jesse begins to mix with disappointment and fear for his own life.

After the set-up and initial train robbery, Director Andrew Dominik constructs the film as a series of suspense sequences where the threat of impending violence hangs in the air and is the subtext for nearly every conversation. While this results in some memorably tense exchanges, it does begin to feel repetitive over the course of the film's protracted running time. Hugh Ross provides voiceover narration at frequent points in the film. While he has the type of voice that one can listen to all day, I could not help think that several of his bits of narration were either completely unnecessary or were describing events that would make more interesting movie scenes than the ones we actually get to see.

The film is visually quite striking and appears to have been heavily manipulated by cinematographer Roger Deakins to tilt colors towards yellows and browns for a sepia effect somewhere between what Deakins and the Coen Brothers achieved digitally with O Brother Where Art Thou and what Robert Altman and Vilmos Zsigmond achieved photochemically for McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Aside from the gorgeous cinematography, Casey Affleck's performance is probably the best reason to see the movie. Rather than just playing Ford as a stock creepy stalker, he imbues him with a sensitivity and pathos that makes him seem equal parts misguided dreamer and dangerous obsessive loser. Pitt does not fare quite as well at providing any sense of Jesse's inner life, probably as much or more due to limitations in the screenplay and editorial choices than to any deficiency in his performance. Jesse is shown to be troubled and have a death wish. The director even resorts to the overused cliche of him shooting his own reflection at one point. Unfortunately, since little indication is given of what Jesse was like before the events depicted in the film, his character feels stagnant other than his increasing paranoia. One of the enduring mysteries of the event described in the film's title involves why James behaved the way he did in the moments leading up to it. While the film is in no way obliged to make perfect sense out of it, it does not handle it in a way that I found either dramatically satisfying or particularly interesting. As things stand, I could not help think that I would have rather seen the fim's narrative balance shift towards showing more of Ford's life after the event described in the title. As constructed, these events play out as more or less an extended coda, curiously interrupted by two musical numbers from Nick Cave and Zoe Deschanel.

The Video

The 16:9 enhanced 2.4:1 transfer represents the film's highly stylized cinematography fairly, but not perfectly. The main culprit is low intensity edge halos around high contrast edges which are particularly noticeable on large projection displays. A scene which features Pitt and Rockwell against a background of sky and snow covered scenery is probably the best illustration of the problem, but it is an issue during most medium and long shot daytime exteriors. There are instances of heavy compression artifacts, during some shots with a lot of movement (a camera pan across a field of windblown tall grass, for instance), but they are infrequent and not a major issue.

The Audio

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is an excellent representation of a mix that ranges from subtly enveloping for most of the film's running time to very active for specific sequences such as the train heist near the film's opening. The spare, sometimes annoyingly repetitive score from Warren Ellis and Nick Cave is represented with excellent fidelity. Alternate Dolby Digital 5.1 language dubs are available in French and Spanish.

The Extras

There are no proper extras on the disc.

When the disc is first spun up, the viewer is greeted with the following promotional clips, all of which are presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.
  • Theatrical trailer for One Missed Call running two minutes and 25 seconds
  • Theatrical teaser for 10,000 BC running one minute and seventeen seconds
  • Theatrical trailer for The Bucket List running two minutes and 30 seconds
  • DVD trailer for The Brave One running 33 seconds
  • DVD trailer for Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee running 31 seconds[font]


The film is packaged in a standard Amaray-style case with no inserts. The well chosen cover image manages to feature the two lead actors prominently and still give an idea what the film is all about.


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is an elegiac western that unfolds at a pace that will be described as "measured" if one is a fan of mood pieces and "slow" if one is not. The beautiful cinematography and a fine performance from Casey Affleck as the squirrelly, unstable, but oddly sympathetic Bob Ford make the disc worth at least a rental for fans of post-modern westerns. The film is presented on disc with excellent audio, good video marred only by some light edge ringing, and no extras.


Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#2 of 10 OFFLINE   Nathan V

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Posted February 04 2008 - 09:10 AM

Thanks, Ken. Great review of a personal favorite of mine; I'll be picking this one up. Regards, Nathan
The Tree of Life / Brad Pitt / Sean Penn / Directed by Terrence Malick / 2010

#3 of 10 OFFLINE   Yumbo



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Posted February 05 2008 - 12:20 AM

Looking forward to the HD DVD.

#4 of 10 OFFLINE   Haggai



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Posted February 05 2008 - 01:38 AM

Thanks for the review, Ken. This was one of my favorites from last year, so I was disappointed when I saw the announcement of no real extras for this release. Does anyone think there might be a double-dip coming at some point with anything else on it? Any bare-bones initial release these days is reason to suspect a future double-dip, but my understanding is that this movie had a troubled history in terms of clashes between the studio and the director, so maybe this will end up being an instance of where they just put the film out on DVD and move on.

#5 of 10 OFFLINE   Adam Sanchez

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Posted February 05 2008 - 02:23 AM

I can't wait to finally see this movie. We waited and waited for it to show up in theaters and just could never find it. But now it's on video! is there a Blu-Ray one coming? I forget.

#6 of 10 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden



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Posted February 05 2008 - 03:35 AM

The Blu-Ray should be available today. An HD DVD/SD DVD combo is scheduled for February 26. Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#7 of 10 OFFLINE   Jace_A


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Posted February 05 2008 - 09:03 AM

I have the Blu-Ray, but haven't watched it as yet. According to the review on DVD Beaver, it is replete with edge-enhancement, unfortunately.

#8 of 10 OFFLINE   David (C)

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Posted February 07 2008 - 05:57 PM

I pettion Charles de Lauzrka to produce a SE of this title.

#9 of 10 OFFLINE   bosque



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Posted February 07 2008 - 10:14 PM

However, DVD Beaver appear to have been impressed with the video quality on the standard DVD release:

"detail is exceptional and considering the, over 2 1/2 hour, film shares the DVD with no supplements (and fills almost 8 Gig of the disc) it is probably as strong as it will appear on Standard DVD. I saw no post-production manipulation. In fact digital noise is also very limited and, of course, the print is super clean."

No mention of edge-enhancement there, so is Gary's site saying it has been introduced during the hi-definition transfer ? I have the Blu-Ray and, although there were a couple of instances of very minor EE - when Jesse James' figure is silhouetted against the white light of an oncoming train - I certainly wouldn't agree that it is replete with EE. Great movie, as well, by the way.

#10 of 10 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden



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Posted February 07 2008 - 10:27 PM

Don't worry. It is there. I noticed some during just about every daylight exterior, particularly in medium and long shots, per my comments above. It was annoying on a 100" projection screen, but barely noticeable on my 36" tube. Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

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