Jesse James (Colin Farrell) his brother Frank (Gabriel Macht) and his cousins Bob (Will McCormack) and Cole Younger (Scott Caan) come back to their farms in Missouri after fighting for the South in the Civil War. Yet when they return they find a corrupt railroad baron Thaddeus Rains (Harris Yulin) has captured the deeds to their homes to build his railroad. When Rains uses unnecessary force to get them off the land James and his comrades set out to ruin Rains and his plans and seek the ultimate revenge. They become the infamous James-Younger gang led by the charismatic James who rob banks and blow up railways. As Rains and his henchman Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton) launch the biggest manhunt of the Old West James starts to lose interest in the gang's activities as a rivalry between he and Cole springs up and as he falls in love with the beautiful Zee Mimms (Ali Larter). But can James escape justice?
Irish-born Farrell has certainly been making a name for himself especially with his buzzed-about performance in last year's indie fave Tigerland. Unfortunately he chose to make this film rather than something a little more challenging. He does a nice job playing the legendary outlaw--and he looks pretty damn good doing it--but the part doesn't require much. However all the boys including Macht as Frank James Caan as Cole Younger and McCormack as Bob Younger actually join Farrell in trying to flesh out real characters rather than cardboard cutouts--and nearly succeed. The camaraderie between them may have been carried off-screen as well. However the rest of the cast doesn't necessarily follow suit. Dalton is dull as Pinkerton with an unrecognizable accent and Larter really doesn't have a clue what she's doing although next to Farrell she looks fetching. Anyone would.
The main problem with the film once again didn't have much to do with the acting--but everything to do with the terribly clichéd script. All the great acting in the world can't help trite dialogue and predictable plot lines. And these young actors certainly can't rise above the material. When Mama James (played by the completely wasted Kathy Bates) prays her son comments "her talking to the Lord is not what worries me it's that He talks back." Clever very clever. Face it the western genre is a dying breed. Anyone remember the really bad 1990 Young Guns? The Academy Award-winning Unforgiven may have been the last great and original Western to come out of Hollywood. Or maybe they finally need to put the Jesse James story to rest. Sure the infamous character makes a compelling antihero but it's been given the big-screen treatment too many times to count. It's time to give it up.