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Cinema Junkie by Beth Accomando


Brad Pitt as Jesse James in The Assassination of... (Warner Bros.)

The full name of this film didn't fit in the headline: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Now that's not quite up to the word count of The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade , but assassination does figure prominently in each. And in the case of The Assassination of Jesse James (opened Oct. 12 throughout San Diego) , the lengthiness of the title foreshadows the excesses of the film.

Here's a simple rule: If the audience knows a film's final destination in this case Robert Ford shooting outlaw Jesse James the filmmaker darn well better better make the journey interesting because there are no surprises lurking ahead. The life and death of outlaw Jesse James has been told many times before, sometimes romanticizing him (as with Tyrone Power in the 1939 film) and sometimes presenting him as a dangerous psychopath (Robert Duvall in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid ). James has secured himself a place in American folklore since his death in 1882 at the hands of one of his own gang, Robert Ford. James had fought with the ruthless Confederate guerrilla fighters, Quantrill's Raiders during the Civil War and then turned to robbing banks, trains and the occasional stage coach. Some newspapers portrayed him as a kind of Robin Hood and small farmers probably derived some satisfaction from the way the James Gang stuck it to the big businesses of the time -- the banks and trains. What all this means is that James has long been a subject of fascination for a variety of media.

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