“Long movies have always been with us,” observes Wall Street Journal film critic Joe Morgenstern. “Some have been follies (Heaven’s Gate — 219 minutes) while others have been glories (Abel Gance’s silent classic Napoleon — 330 minutes). Indeed, I was a staunch — some might say dogged — supporter of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, which runs 188 minutes, though I admired just as intensely his Punch-Drunk Love, which clocked in at 95 minutes.
“And earlier this month I came down firmly — some might say heedlessly — on the side of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, an ultra-long Western (160 minutes), with an ultra-long title (10 words), that struck me as consistently interesting, thoughtful and entertaining.
“I didn’t expect to fall for it. To the contrary, I showed up at the screening with a heavy cargo of dread, since the production had already provoked well-publicized battles between Warner Bros., who’d wanted it cut to conventional length, and its producer and, yes, co-star, Brad Pitt, who opposed making cuts, and prevailed. But movie going is full of surprises.
“In my own experience, enough is when a film fills its running time with dramatic energy, originality and variety — with the stuff of life — and too much is when it doesn’t. If long movies make us squirm or yawn, it’s not because they aren’t short, but because they aren’t full.”