Plot: A young Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) gets his wish and joins Jesse James’ (Brad Pitt) gang. Slowly, Robert begins to resent the legendary outlaw and hatches a plan to kill the man he idolized. Who’s it for: If you like slow-moving westerns that dive more into character flaws than action, here’s the film you’ve been waiting for your whole life.
Expectations: I knew it was long (over two and a half hours) before I sat down, so mentally I had prepared myself. I’m a huge Brad Pitt fan, and for some reason I keep rooting for Casey Affleck, probably because of “Good Will Hunting” and his line “I think I swallowed a bug.”
Actors: Brad Pitt as Jesse James: There is no question Pitt is a great actor. “Fight Club,” “Twelve Monkeys,” and “Se7en” are some of my favorite performances. The problem here is that Jesse James isn’t all that impressive. Pitt does a great job with the material, but it never felt like he was the greatest outlaw the West had ever seen. Some may like this story, and it could be historically accurate, but that doesn’t make it entertaining. Grade: 7
Casey Affleck as Robert Ford: It’s always hard to appreciate a performance that annoys you (on purpose). Robert is clumsy, hopeful and a backstabber, and Affleck nails the role. He’s like the kid on the playground who got picked on a little too much by his friends. Grade: 8
Talking: The narrator moves the story along, not the actions on the screen. There are many times when I hoped the actions the narrator was describing were acted out. And there was only one classic line of dialogue offered, which was, “You can hide things in vocabulary.” Grade: 5
Sights and sounds: The film is beautiful to look at, but a repetitive score doesn’t help capture enough emotion, it just makes you realize it’s repetitive. Grade: 7
OVERALL Even though the film looks beautiful and there are some great performances, including Sam Rockwell as Robert’s older brother, there are things that rubbed me the wrong way. It’s like they removed Superman’s cape. Jesse James isn’t shown as a brilliant outlaw, just occasionally violent with some mental issues. So it’s hard to love Brad Pitt’s character even though he acts the part well. There’s just no one to root for in the entire film. Some critics might decide there is a great realism, but I found it boring. Finally, some of the best events are simply narrated, so we don’t get to see them. “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” is a winner … but only for longest title of the year.
Overall Grade: 6