Affleck blends stuttering shyness with boyish sincerity in a role that is really far more interesting than that of Jesse James. His journey from super-fan to intellectual betrayer is one largely propelled by the withering of Ford's own personal mythological understanding of James. As the two grow close, Jesse James seems to understand Ford better than he understands himself. During a moment of chiaroscuro-like clarity, James asks of Ford, "You want to be like me, or you want to be me?"
But this is contrasted with the somewhat heavy-handed portrayal of James as an icon of the West that detracts most from the film. Dominic seems intent on giving him a martyr's stare in certain long sequences, as if we're meant to sympathize and identify with his paranoid outbursts and small-minded meanness. He makes a mockery of his men, who placate him rather than become his enemy, but the sense of the film as a whole is that this is justifiable on all ends. James deserves praise for being the legendary outlaw, while his oafish men deserve their ridicule because they at least basked in his sunny dispositions when he was largehearted.
The film is masterfully photographed by Roger Deakins, though western cinematography is not especially difficult to make look incredible. The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is surprisingly sedate and not especially inventive. While it echoes their earlier work from The Proposition, it seems a feathery, fainter showing of their talents, and sometimes feels a bit stagnant and overused.
Dominic is to be credited for trying to make a western that plays by new rules and tells a different story. He does a wonderful job of keeping us interested. If he could cut down the running time and reduce the number of rugged Brad Pitt magazine cover shots, he might just have a dominating Oscar force on his hands.