If you need help remembering why Brad Pitt’s a star…

Brad Pitt isn’t entirely believable playing a regular schmo (like, say, the one he played in Babel). He’s got too much sparkle, blue-eyed charisma, and an excess of that je ne sais quoi that is (as the absolutely accurate cliché has it) the difference between mere actors and movie stars. In the new film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (in theaters 9/21), he’s finally found a role — America’s most celebrated outlaw — that suits him.

What differentiates this film from previous ones about Jesse James is that director Andrew Dominik (whose only previous film, Chopper, was a biopic of a real-life present-day Australian outlaw) smartly chose to concentrate on the final months of James’s life. Casey Affleck plays assassin Robert Ford with weaselly perfection, and the film presents a complicated portrait of a meek hero worshiper turned dangerous fame seeker. The film is looong (160 minutes), but it doesn’t lose momentum thanks to the fine performances — including supporting ones by Sam Rockwell and Sam Shepherd (plus a James Carville cameo!) — and the glorious golden cinematography.

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If you need help remembering why Brad Pitt’s a star…