A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
All of the male protagonists are robbers and killers; women serve only as supportive spouses. Jesse is increasingly paranoid, and Bob is selfish and craven.
Violence & Scariness
The film's frequent violence is awkward rather than exciting, with a focus on its bloody effects. Shootouts are ragged, with many misses and falls, as well as bloody injuries (a couple of overhead shots show bodies with blood pooling from their heads); bullets hit heads, limbs, and chests. Beatings and a shootout during a train robbery. Trying to get information from a boy, Jesse hits him hard and repeatedly. A shootout at the Ford home sends Charlie jumping out the window; Bob shoots Wood in the head. The assassination of Jesse James is long anticipated; after the shooting, his head is shown slamming into the wall, with his body falling to the floor.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Men's discussion of "being inside a woman" (with slang references to female genitalia, like "coot") includes reference to a "squaw." Heavy verbal flirting between a man and a married woman. Jesse appears in the tub from the back (no explicit imagery). Sexy feather-fan dance at end of film (no explicit shots, but insinuation as woman teases her male audience).
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Some language sprinkled throughout the film, including "s--t," "pecker," "bastard," "bitch." Reference to a "'"N" word' woman."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Much drinking and cigarette or cigar smoking by men in saloons. Bob appears stumbling drunk in a saloon.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that teens may be drawn to this violent, mature Western by star Brad Pitt. Leading up to the titular event, viewers see bleeding wounds and seeping heads, arguments that end in shootouts, fistfights and hostile wrestling, and an intense train robbery. You can also expect some language ("s--t," "pecker," "bitch," etc.), sexual insinuations, cigarette smoking, and hard liquor drinking (the latter are both accurate for the movie's 1880s "Wild West" setting). To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Roger Deakins' cinematography is heartbreakingly beautiful, alternately blurred and precise, the colors autumnal, the shadows long and evocative. Based on Ron Hansen's 1997 novel, Assassination suggests that Jesse's celebrity, even more than his crimes or his violent nature, leads to his dreadful end. The visuals make for an environment that reflects the inner lives of both Jesse and Bob, neither able to shake the other. "I can't figure it out," Jesse says, "You want to be like me or be me?" Jesse finds it difficult to give up "night-riding" and becomes increasingly paranoid. When he moves his children and wife, Zee (Mary-Louise Parker), to a cottage in Missouri, he feels restless, riding out occasionally to murder former gang members. These visits are turned into poetic vignettes, the camera close on the men's faces as they anticipate their fate, while Jesse remains unnervingly calm and decided.
At last landing on Bob and Charlie's doorstep, Jesse looks almost resigned when he hears Bob list "the many ways that you and I overlap and whatnot" (they share the same height, blue eyes, number of brothers, etc.). But Bob's obsession is never explosive; rather, the movie adopts a melancholy tone, creeping toward the moment when Jesse will essentially invite his "sidekick" to put him out of his misery, turning his back so that Bob can aim the new nickel-plated gun that Jesse gave him. Afterward, Bob and Charlie go on the road, performing and re-performing the assassination on stage hundreds of times (it's a little unnerving that Charlie plays Jesse and so "dies" repeatedly by his brother's hand). Though Bob yearns for the adulation he felt for his victim, he's instead reviled, a proto-tabloid figure who's mocked and resented. Though the film loses a kind of pulsing energy when Jesse is dead, that's partly the point: Bob's life also ends at the moment he tries to take control of it. He loses himself to the celebrity -- the idea and the man -- he so covets.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.