As with "THE INVASION" from WARNER BROS, "THE ASSASSINATION
OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD" was long delayed before its brief
theatrical release. Apparently, Pitt had a hand in testing a version with
more action with audiences that didn't do well, thereby allowing the
writer/director to finally release his version, albeit still shorter than what
he originally intended. The fact that this film could be longer will irk many,
as it could use tightening and it would be easy to chop off 25 minutes without
the film missing a beat. It's easy to understand why many critics hail this film
as a masterpiece. While this reviewer can't go that far, there is something
about it that is engrossing. While it is a revision of the "western" film,
it's far more poetic than "MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER," and less violent.
There are plenty of beautiful, haunting images that will stay with the viewer
long after the film has ended. The final railroad robbery by James near the
beginning of the film, foretells the kind of brilliant synergy between music and
imagery to come throughout the film. The narration, is also engaging,
helping in some way, to transcend the genre in a manner that Terrence Malick
always sought, but never actually succeeded in. Brad Pitt and Casey
Affleck do a great job here, in every scene, but then, the whole cast is great.
Well, actually the appearance of James Carville actually stops the film dead in
its track for a moment, almost slipping from the masterful style of scenes
preceding and following it.
Those expecting a violent, action-type film will be sorely
disappointed. But, those willing to sit back and just give in to the character
study unfolding, will be extremely pleased.
WARNER BROS. has provided the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio for
this release. Colors are solid throughout. The production design is often
elaborate, and even with soft focus lens moments, the image is still stunning.
Colors are perfectly rendered, varying with the director's intent, from rich to
restrained. The level of detail for a dvd, is amazing. This is a great looking
transfer, making one even more excited to see what has been improved upon in the
high-def versions to be released! The highly stylized image actually may annoy
viewers more on the blu-ray, as its intentional distortions and soft-lens shots
are more distinct on this format. While the majority of images in this 2 1/2
plus hours film look nearly flawless in richness and depth on blu-ray, those
softer looking moments are more highly contrasted. Still, on the blu-ray, even
when colors are intentionally subdued for a period(Altman"esque")look, the depth
is still great! While the hd-dvd is supposed to have come from the same AVC 1
source, blacks were less defined here, lending slightly better contrast on the
blu-ray. Other than in darker scenes, the two high-def formats appear
WARNER BROS. has provided a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The
mix, while not aggressive, is excellent. There is an adequate amount of
surround/discrete involvement during key moments and the blending of music,
narration and dialogue is perfectly balanced. It's a GREAT mix! For some reason,
WARNER BROS. has chosen not to provide a Dolby TrueHD or even PCM mix for this
blu-ray release, opting for just a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix instead. The hd-dvd, at
least offers a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix. The
music is presented with even greater dynamic range on the blu-ray format and
hd-dvd format, over the standard 5.1 mix of the standard dvd. While overall surround involvement may seem to pale in comparison to "bigger"
(300-like)films, this is still a terrific, if subdued mix. We couldn't tell any
difference whatsoever between the blu-ray and hd-dvd, and both offer better
dynamic range than the dvd.
Surprisingly, no extras are offered on dvd, while the
high-def formats offer a short documentary on the infamous outlaw.