There’s plenty about Andrew Dominik’s “The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford” that’s faultless – the cinematography is jaw-dropping, the score is wondrous, the performances are strong, and the direction is deft.
There’s no question it’s a meticulously well-crafted artistic work, but it’s also not faultless. The script isn’t quite up in the same league in its exploration of themes of hero worship, legacy, and guilt all tied to one man’s pathological obsession with another.
Mostly though the film has come under fire in the past for its languid pacing spread out over an unnecessarily long 159 minute runtime. Over time people have grown more forgiving of the longer runtime and relaxed pacing, but at the time of production it was famously a big issue of contention between the filmmakers and the studio.
At one point Spielberg’s longtime editor Michael Kahn was brought in and came up with a version that ran 110 minutes – nearly a full hour shorter. The film’s first assistant editor Hugh Ross, who also narrates the film, spoke with EW this week about the movie and of Kahn’s cut said:
“Honest to God, they paid him a ton of money, and I honestly don’t think anybody even looked at that cut. It wasn’t any good.”
Ross also remains uncertain why the studio didn’t care for the film and offer it more support:
“Warners just treated it so badly and never understood what they had. It has always completely perplexed me because the screenplay is a real faith adaptation of [Ron Hansen’s] book, and the movie is exactly the screenplay. I don’t know what they were expecting.
I understand why it scared Warner Bros. Pictures, I just don’t understand the point of dumping it. Why not put it out there and see what happens? If you say this movie isn’t going to work and then release it in just a couple theaters, yeah, it’s not going to work.
If you put it out there for a weekend and nobody sees it or hears about it or knows that it’s there, it’s not going to work. Then you can say to yourself, ‘See? I told you it wouldn’t work.'”
“The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford” is now available on disc and streaming services.