From the advertising this looked like an amoral violent comedy with the funniest dialogue of the year, but it turned out to be a deep story about forgiveness with the funniest dialogue of the year. According to the Internet, the movie is actually racist, anti-feminist, and not deep at all, so I am wrong, but I had a great time.

Frances McDormand wants to shame sheriff Woody Harrelson into continuing the search for her daughter’s killer, but Woody is dying of cancer and finally kills himself, causing the town to turn on Frances. Sam Rockwell, a horrible racist cop working for Woody, who badly beats Caleb Landry Jones (playing a nice guy for once), is fired by new chief Clarke Peters, then tries to do the right thing for once by helping Frances. Lucas Hedges, having a big year, is Frances’s son, John Hawkes her ex, Peter Dinklage her partner in crime, and Abbie Cornish Woody’s wife.

I missed the evening show of Manchester by the Sea because I misremembered the start time and got caught up watching Black Mirror episodes. But I still wanted to get bummed out watching a long Casey Affleck movie, so fortunately I had The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford handy. I don’t remember Casey from the Oceans trilogy or Interstellar, so this served as a reintroduction before Manchester, and both turned out to be stunner movies with great lead performances. If anyone is working on a Timothy Carey biopic, I nominate Casey as lead.

I’ve seen this story before, in Sam Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James, in which The Coward Robert Ford shoots his hero/boss Jesse in the back, then lives the rest of his short life as a famous outlaw-killer, reenacting his crime onstage. This movie fleshes out the gang much more, showing a Robert as a starstruck, excitable kid, the runt of the Fords, and Jesse as paranoid and dangerous.

After one last train robbery, the gang lays low. Jesse has a family with wife Mary-Louise Parker, lives in a forest house near Kansas City under a fake name, never got caught. Ol’ Frank James (Sam Shepard) and Charley (Sam Rockwell) make the weasely, weak-sounding Robert feel bad about his Jesse James hero-worship, but Jesse recruits Robert when the rest of his gang starts falling away and he gets nervous that someone will sell him out for reward money, visits old friend Garret Dillahunt and kills him. Meanwhile, Paul Schneider and Jeremy Renner are none too bright, compete for the attention of a teen girl, eventually have a huge falling out and Bob kills Renner and calls the cops on Schneider. Late appearance by James Carville as the governor, Nick Cave as a troubadour and Zooey “She” Deschanel.

Casey and Carville have a psychic battle:

Dominik and DP Roger Deakins don’t overdo the stylistic quirks, allowing the story and actors to do their thing against gorgeous landscapes, but the movie’s got its share of flair – shots with edges blurred like old-timey photographs, an occasional omniscient narrator.

Casey of the Clouds:

A. Cook:

On one side it mythologizes the transitionary period of American history via the fable-building narration and dreamy photography, and on the other it slowly and methodically demystifies the characters that populate it and the falsehood of celebrity. It is this contradiction that is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film and mirrors the inner-conflict of Robert Ford and his complex relationship with Jesse James.

I was so glad to see a high-quality big-budget comic movie for once, enjoying the story and the evil Russian with a whip and Sam Rockwell trying to outdo Tony Stark as a self-obsessed showman (the movie never lets us forget that Tony, despite his braggadocio, has humanity’s best interests at heart). Then Samuel L. Exposition came along and ruined it. Nothing against Mr. Jackson – he can be awesome – but why cast him in a momentum-killing non-awesome long dialogue scene in a donut shop? After this, the movie wastes a lot of time on Scarlett Johansson’s Avengers character, as if we know or care who the hell she is, plus gives Rourke a go-nowhere back-story, doesn’t punish Cheadle for stealing an Iron Man suit and giving it to the transparently evil Rockwell, and provides Downey with a happy-meal redemption from his so-called dark days (ooh, he’s drunk on his birthday) and a permanent cure for the illness that’s supposedly afflicting him (Katy and I forget some origin-story details from part one). It falls into fragments and never reattains its pre-Samuel-L innocence. Anyway, I liked Mickey Rourke’s electric whip and parts of the final fight scene. And the cockatoo. Katy likes Gwyneth Paltrow, but not as much as in the first movie.

Weirdness: this was written by Justin Theroux of Mulholland Dr. He and Favreau (who cast himself as comic relief) must not have a thing for comic superhero names, since I didn’t know that Mickey Rourke was supposed to be called Whiplash (or Don Cheadle “War Machine” or Scarlett Johansson “Black Widow”) until IMDB told me. A post-credits scene sets up THOR, which we’ll watch some weekday night as soon as it’s free.