In the future, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford will be regarded as a classic. It’s a haunting epic packed with beauty and brutality thanks to Roger Deakins’s finest cinematography, Brad Pitt’s best performance to date, and a narrative that conforms to zero biopic conventions. However, at the time of its release writer/director Andrew Dominik’s adaptation was a box office dud, grossing less than $4m across the globe on a $36m budget.
A part of the problem was that it wasn’t the Jesse James movie Warner Bros. wanted. They were thinking Unforgiven, not two and a half hours of obsession and regret. Heck, they probably would’ve preferred American Outlaws, the other recent financial (and creative) misfire starring Colin Farrell as a plucky Jesse James. To a degree, that’s fair on the studio’s part: wanting the most commercial movie possible from what’s now considered a non-commercial genre. The movie went through various edits due to Warners disliking of Dominik’s cut, but, despite their efforts, what they released still wasn’t the shoot ’em up they were hoping for.
Instead the result was something people have developed an immense passion for since its 2007 release. This Saturday in New York City there’s a revival screening of the film, and several sites (including us) have used the event as an excuse to praise the flop. If you’re in New York and have the time and money, do not miss out. The Assassination of Jesse James is a theatrical experience every one of its acolytes should experience.
One of its greatest fans, to no real surprise, is its star Casey Affleck. We spoke with Affleck at the junket for Out of the Furnace, and when Dominik’s epic was mentioned, he was excited to share his thoughts on the film.
Outside of the upcoming revival screening, do you think people are finally starting to catch up with Jesse James?
It has caught on with people who like movies. Dude, that’s a great movie. I almost never feel that way about the movies I’ve been in, but I love that movie. I just love the way that movie fucking looks. You can feel it, you know? I mean, when Roger Deakins ‐ who’s probably the best living cinematographer in the whole world and has this incredible career ‐ says that’s one of the best films he’s done, then it’s great [Laughs]. There has to be something to special. It’s nice they’re showing it again.
Did you ever see any of Andrew Dominik’s longer versions?
I did. They were cool. The thing about that movie was Jesse James was Jesse James. Whether it’s the book or the myth before everything, he was him. Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt, so it was two legends.
The story was told from Robert Ford’s perspective, as it was in the novel, but…originally, it was meant to be they die, but this other story goes on [with Robert Ford]. It was so beautiful and heart wrenching. I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book…
Oh God, that fucking book. It’s so good. The longer versions sort of take that journey I’m talking about. It stops being a Western and suddenly changes, and the movie looks different, feels different, it’s a different man, and there’s a real passage of time. You see the growth of people and how they change, and I think the book and Andrew’s script and the longer version of the movie got that.