12 March 2014 | Wuchakk
Rousing, mythmaking account of the James-Younger Gang with Colin Farrell & Scott Caan
Released in 2001, "American Outlaws" is yet another rendition of Jesse James, Cole Younger and their Gang. This one focuses on the end of the Civil War and the first few years of the gang's activities,which lasted a whole decade in reality, from 1866-76, ending with the foiled Northfield, Minnesota, bank robbery on September 7, 1876. Jesse & Frank escaped while the others were captured or died. While Frank tried to settle down to a normal life in Virginia Jesse restarted the gang in 1879, but was shot by Robert Ford, one of his trusted gang members on April 3, 1882.
"American Outlaws" is highlighted by a great cast with palpable chemistry, including Colin Farrell as Jesse, Scott Caan (aka 'Danno') as Cole, the beautiful Ali Larter as Zee, Jesse's girlfriend/wife, and Timothy Dalton as the lead Pinkerton. Gabriel Macht, Will McCormack, Nathaniel Arcand and Gregory Smith are also on hand as notable members of the gang. The film plays it fairly serious accented by a fun, joie de vivre spirit, sorta like Indiana Jones in the wild West. You can tell the cast had a blast during filming. This is the exact opposite of the grim "The Long Riders" from 1980, which is arguably the best and most accurate film about the James-Younger Gang.
As far as historical accuracy goes with "American Outlaws," well, there was a group of outlaws in Missouri called the James-Younger Gang and they did rob banks, trains, and stagecoaches in Missouri, Kentucky, Iowa, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, West Virginia and Minnesota (whereas Jesse's later group continued the gangs' criminal legacy in Alabama, Missouri, Louisiana and Mississippi), other than this the historicity is pretty butchered for the sake of rousing Western entertainment. See "The Long Riders" for a more austere and accurate version of the tale.
BOTTOM LINE: Even though "American Outlaws" loses points for inaccuracies and implausibilities, it scores high in overall entertainment value. It's a turn-off-your-brain-and-have-a-blast kind of Western. The movie performed poorly at the box office in 2001 and Roger Ebert gave it a scathing review. Ebert compared it to 1972's "The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid," which he praised. This was strange because that film wasn't exactly realistic either; in fact, it's a veritable parody or black comedy. These movies shouldn't be compared in the first place since "American Outlaws" details the gang's first year in action and "The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid" the gang's final bank robbery, a whole decade later. Furthermore, the two films are expressly opposite in tone: "American Outlaws" makes the wild West larger-than-life and ALMOST fun while the other film de-glamorizes it, making it profane, ugly and idiotic. In any event, "American Outlaws" is seriously rollicking Western lore worthy of one's video library.
The film was shot in Central-East Texas (great locations, by the way) and runs a short-but-sweet 94 minutes.