Roger Deakins' cinematography is heartbreakingly beautiful, alternately blurred and precise, the colors autumnal, the shadows long and evocative. Based on Ron Hansen's 1997 novel, Assassination suggests that Jesse's celebrity, even more than his crimes or his violent nature, leads to his dreadful end. The visuals make for an environment that reflects the inner lives of both Jesse and Bob, neither able to shake the other. "I can't figure it out," Jesse says, "You want to be like me or be me?" Jesse finds it difficult to give up "night-riding" and becomes increasingly paranoid. When he moves his children and wife, Zee (Mary-Louise Parker), to a cottage in Missouri, he feels restless, riding out occasionally to murder former gang members. These visits are turned into poetic vignettes, the camera close on the men's faces as they anticipate their fate, while Jesse remains unnervingly calm and decided.
At last landing on Bob and Charlie's doorstep, Jesse looks almost resigned when he hears Bob list "the many ways that you and I overlap and whatnot" (they share the same height, blue eyes, number of brothers, etc.). But Bob's obsession is never explosive; rather, the movie adopts a melancholy tone, creeping toward the moment when Jesse will essentially invite his "sidekick" to put him out of his misery, turning his back so that Bob can aim the new nickel-plated gun that Jesse gave him. Afterward, Bob and Charlie go on the road, performing and re-performing the assassination on stage hundreds of times (it's a little unnerving that Charlie plays Jesse and so "dies" repeatedly by his brother's hand). Though Bob yearns for the adulation he felt for his victim, he's instead reviled, a proto-tabloid figure who's mocked and resented. Though the film loses a kind of pulsing energy when Jesse is dead, that's partly the point: Bob's life also ends at the moment he tries to take control of it. He loses himself to the celebrity -- the idea and the man -- he so covets.