If you are in a movie theater and the movie you are watching is ‘The Assassination of Jesse James’ by the Coward Robert Ford, there are two reasons you are there: either a) you like Westerns or b) you like Brad Pitt.
If you picked option A, get out of the theater. This movie is not a Western. Rather, it is an engaging drama set at the turn of the 20th century. You will find little in the way of dashing heroes and thrilling gunfights. If you chose option B, you should probably get out of the theater as well, unless you are in it for the long haul to see some of the best acting Pitt has ever put forth on the silver screen.
Clocking in at an impressive two hours and 40 minutes, the movie details every moment from James’ last train robbery to just past his death. In his sophomore film, Director Andrew Dominik does not skip over mundane encounters between different members of James’s gang and seems to emphasize each moment, rather than just the most dramatic ones. This makes for a film that is agonizingly long at some places but consistently paced: you have to work for your satisfying conclusion with many seemingly pointless scenes.
The reward, however, is the starkly realistic descent of James and Robert Ford as their destinies spiral toward each other. Pitt plays an increasingly paranoid James, perfecting the nuances of America’s favorite outlaw. Casey Affleck matches Pitt’s James with a Ford who is so neurotic and naively hopeful, that his inevitable betrayal is much more enjoyably realistic.
Much of the film’s extra time can be attributed to conversations and distance shots that quite simply don’t need to be in the film.
Dominik expects the audience to be passionately interested in James’ life leading up to his death. It is curious that Dominik portrays the very end of James’ life and not the gallivanting and crime-ridden events that made him a southern icon