Brad Pitt plays Jesse James in Andrew Dominik’s new movie

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Andrew Dominik’s ambitious new film, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (opening Friday), feels more like a novelty than it would have in, say, the 1950s, when westerns were as ubiquitous as tumbleweeds in a ghost town, or even in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when the counterculture grooved on the romance of banditry. It seems as if it has been a while since we’ve seen Jesse and his brother Frank and their narrow-eyed partners in crime stride slowly, warily into a bank or thunder down on a train, their long-handled pistols held high in the air, dusters flapping behind them.

Actually the last major-studio Jesse James picture came out a scant six years ago — “American Outlaws,” directed by Les Mayfield (“Flubber”) and starring Colin Farrell as handsome Jesse — though it bears so little resemblance to historical truth (or, for that matter, a plausible lie) that it probably shouldn’t count. Practically the only interesting thing about that instantly forgotten movie is the shamelessness of its attempt to tart up the Jamesian legends with contemporary attitudes. It’s the beer-commercial version, all joshing and wisecracking and frat-boy camaraderie. And it has, as the real Jesse James did not, a happy ending.

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