Writer-director Andrew Dominik takes his time with the story, but his languorous pacing allows tension to build -- and permits the actors, Affleck in particular, to add nuance and depth to characters who'll seem familiar only at first glance.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is the story...of the moment in America when myth was murdered by mere celebrity and we were left, perhaps forever, with only the latter's meager consolations.
Pitt's subtle work -- relaxed and confident, yet seething with quiet menace -- is complemented beautifully by Affleck's enigmatic Ford, whose admiration for (and fear of) James distinguishes him from a run-of-the-mill scoundrel.
The Assassination of Jesse James is less of a Western than a mid-Western, which refers both to the film's urban Missouri center of gravity and its pivoting position between horse opera and backstage intrigue.
The extraordinary expressive performers, male and female; the haunting interior and exterior conflicts; the painstaking authenticity of the period detail; and the subtly modulated mood shifts all combine to make a modern masterpiece of an old legend.