2 hours, 40 minutes
R Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Adult.
for strong violence and brief sexual references
Jesse James ... Brad Pitt
Robert Ford ... Casey Affleck
Frank James ... Sam Shepard
Zee James ... Mary-Louise Parker
Dick Liddil ... Paul Schneider
Wood Hite ... Jeremy Renner
Ed Miller ... Garret Dillahunt
Dorothy Evans ... Zooey Deschanel
Henry Craig ... Michael Parks
Sheriff Timberlake ... Ted Levine
Charley Ford ... Sam Rockwell
Governor Crittenden ... James Carville
Major George Hite ... Tom Aldredge
On September 5, 1881 Jesse James (Brad Pitt "Legends of the Fall") is 34 years old, and has been holding up trains for 14 years. He's about to attack one more. Jesse and his older brother, Frank (Sam Shepard "Days of Glory"), still run the gang, but all of the other original members are either dead or in prison. So, accompanying them on this robbery are a bunch of locals. 19-year-old Robert Ford (Casey Affleck "Ocean's 13) is among them. He's a huge fan of Jesse, having idolized him since his youth. He also appears ill-equipped to be an outlaw. Nevertheless, he worms himself into Jesse’s trust. Even when Jesse returns home to his life with wife (Mary-Louise Parker "Fried Green Tomatoes") and children, he can't quite bring himself to get rid of Bob, a leech who has collected every dime novel written about his hero. Jesse is both amused and appalled and at one point he taunts Bob with the question, "You want to be like me, or you want to be me?".
The biggest problem with the film is the meandering middle section. It's taken up with lesser characters who aren't especially interesting while Jesse is relaxing at home smoking his big cigars, and attention shifts to Charley Ford (Sam Rockwell "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind"), Bob's grinning older brother, Wood Hite (Jeremy Renner "North Country"), Jesse's cousin and Dick Liddil (Paul Schneider "All the Real Girls"), a self-styled ladies' man. And through it all, Robert Ford remains an enigma. How he became transformed from Jesse’s biggest fan to a man who viewed him with envy and jealousy is never adequately revealed. By spending so much time with individuals who capture neither our interest nor our sympathy. It's in this middle section that the film, written and directed by Andrew Dominik ("Chopper") begins to lose our interest. Although it finally gets back on track with its exciting ending and extended epilogue.
The acting, especially by Brad Pitt as the world-weary Jesse and Casey Affleck as the increasingly bitter Robert is excellent. Affleck is impressive as the physically unprepossessing weakling who endures no end of humiliation, but becomes the sort of nobody who has bloodied American history. The supporting roles are well played by Sam Shepard as Frank (who’s only in about the first 30 minutes); Mary-Louise Parker as Jesse’s wife; and Zoey Deschanel ("Almost Famous") in a small-but-critical part as Robert’s late-film love interest.
The film’s cinematography by 5-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins ("A Beautiful Mind") is magnificent. His landscape shots of the open plains of Missouri are breathtaking, and there are countless beautifully photographed sequences throughout. And the voiceover narrative is informative, clever, and intelligent. It adds to the film’s structure rather than being redundant and extraneous. This is an ambitious, splendidly photographed, well acted, but moody and overlong epic.