This is a sad and a beautiful movie.
The cinematography is mostly grays and browns, with the edges of the screen often blurred. The camera, on occasion, follows the action through old, distorted windows, like the ones that existed in the 1880's. The effect is akin to one remembering something that once was vivid, but at the same time realizing the details have been forgotten, or distorted, with time.
After all, the film is not a documentary. It is not about the historical Jesse James. It is a movie. A movie about a legend.
Jesse James was, quite literally, a living legend. The young Robert Ford idolized him. James, who often went by the alias Thomas Howard, was the subject of dime store novels and fantastic news accounts. Ford read them all. Ford was in love with the legend.
There are obvious modern day parallels to the media and the creation of idols. But the movie is less about how the media creates popular icons and distorts the truth, and more about sadness.
Jesse is at times gregarious. At others, cruelly violent. The only time he might be happy is when he is with his two young children.
Ford is never happy. He is always striving to be liked. At first by Jesse. Then by those that want Jesse dead.
Killing the legend, despite his hopes, did not make him liked. It certainly did not make him happy.
In the movie, it is clear that Jesse is tired of the sadness.
He knows what Ford is going to do. He lets him do it. Jesse's sadness ends, and Ford is condemned.
Condemned as the man who shot the legend in the back. While a guest in his house. With his wife in the next room.
Ford assassinated the bad man, and did the bad man a favor. In the process, he perpetuated the bad man's legend and sentenced himself forever as "the dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard and laid poor Jesse in his grave."
(You've heard that pop song, I imagine. Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen have all recorded it. Ford heard it, too, before a man looking to be the guy that killed the guy that killed The Legend, unloaded a shotgun into Ford in a saloon in Creede, Colorado.)
Brad Pitt, as Jesse James, demonstrates he is one of the best actors alive today. His blue eyes alone convey more sadness, loneliness and emptiness than most actors can convey during a soliloquy.
Casey Affleck, as Robert Ford, shows he has potential. While faint praise, Casey is by far a better actor than his brother Ben.
This is my favorite movie of the year so far.