October 01, 2007 12:00 PM

Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Mary-Louise Parker

R |

CRITIC’S CHOICE

WESTERN

As a kid, my younger sister once got a haircut that she hated. “Give it a few days and you’ll like it,” my mother said. Mom could just as easily have been speaking about this deliberately slow-paced film. I had reservations while watching The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford—the title is nearly as long as its 2 hours, 40 minutes running time—but find as the days pass that this beautifully shot, elegiac recounting of the last months of the notorious outlaw’s life really stays with you.

James is a throwback to westerns of the 1970s like McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) and Days of Heaven (1978), intent on deconstructing the mythology of the Old West to humanize the flawed people behind the legends. This movie’s James (Pitt) is both homicidal brute and a family man. His eventual killer, Ford (Affleck), is a worshipful whippersnapper who longs to join James’ gang and whom the bank robber finds both annoying and amusing. In taking its own sweet time to show the journeys of both men, James ultimately makes us understand—helped by sharp performances from Pitt and Affleck—that neither could escape his tragic fate.

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