Plot: What’s it about?
Jesse James (Brad Pitt) is still a famous criminal, wanted in ten states and hunted by lawmen of all kinds. But things have changed since Jesse and his brother started up their gang of bandits. Aside from Jesse and Frank (Sam Shephard), the original gang has been decimated by arrests and death. This has forced the brothers to take on new members, none of whom seem as skilled or trustworthy as their predecessors. Jesse himself is different also, as if he is tired and burned out from a life on the run, sometimes lost in a dark trance. Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) worships Jesse and always has, keeping his comic books hidden under his bed and knowing all of the stories by heart. But when Ford gets a chance to ride with James, things begin a downward spiral that leads to a tragic, violent chain of events.
You can’t always tell much about a movie from its title, but in this case, you can. The Assassination of Jesse James is not a typical western, not even close. In truth, this movie is more of a character study of two men, one which happens to take place in a certain time period. The film runs over two and a half hours at an almost glacial pace, slowly moving along the rails to a conclusion spelled out in the movie’s title. In other words, The Assassination of Jesse James is not about the destination, instead the focus is on what drives the two lead characters to arrive at that point. Brad Pitt is simply excellent here in one of his best performances, while Casey Aflleck also delivers a memorable effort. The slow pace and lack of kinetic movement is sure to scare some off, but this is a great movie that deserves to be seen. The visuals suffer thanks to a lackluster transfer, but the movie itself is so good, this release still earns a recommendation.
Video: How does it look?
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a marked improvement over the standard release, but sadly, this transfer has too many issues to overlook. This is one long movie and for some reason, Warner chose to issue a single layer disc. This results in numerous compression woes, not always minor ones either and at times, these flaws distract from the experience. Throw in some overzealous edge enhancement and inconsistent contrast, then we have a seriously flawed presentation. The image is sharp and has some stunning moments, but the bad outweighs the good here, so let’s hope for a fixed transfer at some point.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included Dolby Digital 5.1 option is solid and replicates the film’s low key audio design well. The movie does have some sporadic gunshots and those prove to be the most active element. The surround open up a little in those instances, with some decent punch, though some sound better than others. The remainder of the elements are lower impact, from the music to dialogue, but it all sounds quite good here. I know some will bemoan the lack of a lossless soundtrack, but given the nature of the movie, I doubt one would add that much. This disc also includes Spanish and French language tracks, as well as subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
Supplements: What are the extras?
A half hour featurette is included, but it is promotional in nature and offers little depth. This movie deserves a lavish Special Edition, so let’s hope Warner conjures one up down the road.