The new film from Australian director Andrew Dominick, The Assassination of Adlai by the Coward Dwight, is a fine, complex work, but could hardly have been released at a more inappropriate time. Starring Brad Pitt as Senator Adlai Stevenson and Casey Affleck as his protege — and nemesis — Dwight D. Eisenhower, the film is a haunting evocation of a distant era — the days of black and white TV — and a subtle exploration of the ineffability of human motivation. Dwight himself does not know whether his dogged pursuit of Adlai is driven by hero-worship or envy. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is breathtaking — expect his name to come up at Academy Awards time. The director’s hand is sure. The performances are strong throughout, and, in Brad Pitt’s case, career-capping.
My only concern is the timing. A movie about assassination? Now?
True, Adlai is only shot in the foot. In fact, he’s not even shot; rather his shoe wears out; a hole appears, the image memorably captured by a newspaper photographer (Sam Shepard). Also, Assassination in no way indicts President Eisenhower, since, as it turns out, the character played by Affleck is an imposter, an Ike Wannabee.
But you learn all these details only if you stick around to the very end of this gorgeous but very, very lengthy movie. After three hours only a handful of viewers remained at the screening where I saw it. After five hours I was alone. If the other viewers — or those who see only the trailer which features many scenes of gunplay and bloodshed, but all taken from a dream sequence! — come away with any impression at all that impression will be one of armed violence against a candidate for the U.S. presidency. In my view, this is not acceptable in this season when feelings in our country are running high concerning an actual, ongoing presidential campaign.
Nice Work‘s verdict: The Assassination of Adlai by the Coward Dwight may be a masterwork of cinema but showing it at this particular moment is needlessly provocative and shows very poor judgment on the part of the distributors. ★★ Two stars.