Got a chance to absorb this movie the other night and the word that kept bouncing around my head while watching it and since then was atmospheric. The movie was filled with a great soundtrack and an interesting cut-structure, wherein I think portions of the novel upon which it was based were interspersed with the narrative of the movie. The movie was jerky, bouncing back and forth between scenes with all the grace of a small child suffering a seizure. I don't mean that in a disrespectful or humorous way, but I will say that it was jarring to say the least, in the beginning. As the film progressed, however, it was abundantly clear that this was supposed to be the case.
Jesse James was portrayed in a pretty great light at the start. However, as the film moved forward in a jumbled manner, he got progressively more and more disjointed himself. He was suffering from delusions and depression and his compatriots could see as much, even as clearly as he was blind to it. The jerking nature of the film only served to reinforce that this was a man who had previously held a world view that was becoming increasingly frayed as not only time passed him by, but all his one-time friends vanished slowly but surely.
Even more interesting than James, though, was the portrayal of the coward, Robert Ford. I thought it was especially interesting to me personally, since I've been pondering some of these issues myself lately, to see that one of the central tenets that was always considered in respect to his character was how young he was. All of the time, everyone asked him, "How old are you boy?" Just like I take small pleasures in the things like taking out my own trash and vacuuming my floors, things that I couldn't have even conceived of ten years ago, much less conceived of enjoying, Robert Ford seemed to mature, albeit at the tail end of the film. One of the lines that stood out to me: "I was only a boy back then." The character himself explicitly acknowledges that it's one of the lessons that we're supposed to draw from the film: age brings experience, and these things matter. It was odd to see this transition get such short shrift in the movie, until one remembers the title and its focus. We are here to observe Jesse James. Any secondary observations are that only; secondary. So while I'm proud of myself and my growth over the last few years, the film doesn't give us time to reflect on, nor appreciate, Robert Ford's growth towards the end of his life. Certainly not a complain (as I said above, I recognize who the main character of this movie is) but perhaps something to think about...
Overall, atmospheric as it was (and believe me, that IS a compliment), I'm not sure that I'd recommend the movie to people unless they were prepared for the full scope of ambiguity that comes with watching a movie where the main character is neither a good guy nor a bad one. It's hard for us as Americans to see this kind of waffling. If you're into that...check it out. You'll love it.