Acting Brothers in Arms
"The Long Riders" is another movie about the legendary Jesse James and the James Gang, telling us a tale about their exploits and like so many leading us to the Northfield Bank Job. But to be frank it didn't really grab me, it didn't deliver anything I hadn't seen before in numerous other movies about Jesse James and the James Gang. In fact in some ways it felt like it was delivering less as what we get are various robberies and then the gang fooling around with women in-between but never allowing us to get beneath the surface of these legendary outlaws. Having said that "The Long Riders" has a novelty factor going for it because it features 4 sets of acting brothers, the Carradine's play the Younger brothers, the Keach's play the James brothers, the Quaid's play the Miller brothers and the Guest brothers play the Ford's. It's because of this rather unique casting which almost had the Bridge brothers as well that "The Long Riders" ends up more entertaining than it really is.
Following the civil war Jesse James (James Keach) and Cole Younger (David Carradine - Kill Bill: Vol. 2) lead their brothers along with the Miller brothers in a series of bank and train robberies, becoming feared outlaws in the process. But it also makes them an enemy of the Pinkerton Agency who will stop at nothing to get them especially Jesse, including trying to turn friends and family against Jesse and the gang.
Maybe for those who have not seen any of the countless other Jesse James movies which have been made over the years "The Long Riders" will be entertaining and interesting but if you have seen the likes of "The True Story of Jesse James" then it's not so good. And the reason is that whilst we watch the James gang pull of various robberies and enjoy the company of women in between jobs it doesn't fill like you are learning anything new about them. Basically whilst all the characters are reasonably well acted you never really feel like you understand their motivation, yes we learn that Jesse & Frank's younger brother is murdered and causes them to look for revenge but it is their need to steal which never shows itself.
As such "The Long Riders" ends up being about two things, how impressive the robberies can look and how well acted the characters are. Now it has to be said that the action side of the movie is good especially as this is a movie which features stunt men jumping on trains, flying through windows on horse back and so on rather than CGI. It does make it exciting to watch and at the same time director Walter Hill makes the most of the gun fights with some in your face shooting. For a movie which is over 30 years old "The Long Riders" does deliver a very good visual experience.
And then there is the acting and whilst it is a novel idea of having acting brothers playing the various brothers in the movie it also does make for some good performances. And in each of these groups of brothers there is a standout performance and so when it comes to the Keach's it is Stacy Keach who seems to get under the skin of being Frank James and makes him not so much a thinker but a man who questions what they do. With the Carradine's it is David Carradine who steals many a scene as the shallow and to be honest bordering on nasty Cole Younger especially when it comes to the way he disrespects his woman Belle Starr. With the Quaid's it is Dennis who outshines Randy which is ironic seeing that Dennis ends up in the movie less and Christopher Guest as Charlie Ford wins out over his brother Nicholas. But to be honest whilst each family has its shining star no one puts in a bad performance, it's just a shame that some of the characters end up having little to do.
What this all boils down to is that "The Long Riders" isn't a bad movie by any means and the novelty of having acting brothers playing the brothers in the movie makes it more interesting. But it just feels like it doesn't manage to get beneath the surface of the legendary Jesse James and the James Gang, delivering the same things which had been done in previous movies about these notorious outlaws.