Introduction to the Press Reviews of American Outlaws
A lot of the reviews that the Press gave American Outlaws I thought were regrettably very negative. I think part of the reason why is because many perhaps thought that this project was the true story in every detail of the well known outlaw Jesse James. Although this project is based on the story of Jesse James, it is of course called American Outlaws and as such focused in a light hearted way, as this movie is a comedy western, on all the characters of the James-Younger Gang. It also covers the corrupt railroad barron Thaddeus Rains (Harris Yulin) who intended to force the citizans of a Midwest town off their land in the name of progress, with the help of the infamous Allan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton) and his Pinkerton Detective Agency who provided limitless manpower to force the railroad company's agenda on the unsuspecting citizens.
I think the Chairman of Morgan Creek Productions, James G. Robinson summed up what American Outlaws was about perfectly, when he said "It has a lot of action, great comic moments and its romantic."
In saying all this I have been busy searching the internet and here on this page you will find positive reviews only, of American Outlaws, and yes as you will now see, there are some - Love Deb
Reviews of American Outlaws
American Outlaws Review by Robin Clifford - Reeling Reviews
"Finally, some good mainstream summer entertainment" - Robin Clifford
The Civil War has ended and the rebel troops have put down their guns and are heading home to the hoped for peace of their farms and former lives. But, in the town of Liberty, Missouri, Jesse James and his friends find that the head of the Rock Island Railroad, Thaddeus Rains (Harris Yulin), is buying up all the farms dirt cheap and it's up to the James-Younger Gang to put a stop to the robber baron's nefarious plans in American Outlaws.
The outlaw has often been a folk hero for the masses at the very least since Robin Hood and his band of merry men roamed Sherwood Forest and thwarted the evil plans of the Sheriff of Nottingham around the time of the Crusades. In America's Old West, the name Jesse James was synonymous with popular desperado and has been the subject of no fewer than 23 different films since the 1921 silent flick, "Jesse James Under the Black Flag." Most of these movie treatments of the life of the notorious outlaw depict him as a Good Samaritan who robs from the evil rich, usually the railroads and their banks, and gives to the needy poor. American Outlaws forgoes any attempt to tell the true story of the James brothers and their gang, opting instead to adapt the "legend" in this latest telling of American history.
The film starts out with an exciting battlefield sequence at the very end of the American Civil War. A Confederate cavalry column is ambushed by superior, more heavily armed Yankee forces, but the brave rebels, in the persons of Jesse and Frank James (Colin Farrell and Gabriel Macht), Cole and Bob Younger (Scott Caan and Will McCormack) and trusted comrade Comanche Tom (Nathaniel Arcand) (and a few other Johnny Rebs) thwart the Yanks and win the battle, finding out, too late, that the war officially ended the day before. It is an exciting, noisy introduction to a bunch of good-looking, likable guys and sets the tone for the rest of the film.
As the war-weary soldiers head to the supposed safety and security of the Missouri homestead, they find that a blue-coat regiment has garrisoned their town and is trying to force the local folks to sell their farms to the railroad at far less than true value. One of the locals, who resisted the blatant attempt to take his land, is hanged as rebel and left in the town square as a reminder to Liberty that resistance to the will of railroad baron Rains is futile. Legions of Pinkerton detectives, led by Allan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton), are brought in to reinforce the point.
Incensed by the murder of their friend, Jesse and the boys, supplemented by the Younger's little brother Jim (Gregory Smith), Clell Miller (Ty O'Neal) and Loni Packwood (Joe Stevens), decide that the railroad must be stopped. When Pinkerton's goons start burning down the homes of the obstinate farmers, they make the fatal mistake of blowing up the James homestead, killing Ma James (Kathy Baker) in the process. This is a major blunder by Mr. Rains and the James-Younger Gang declares war on the railroad, robbing his banks and disrupting his supply lines. Rains presses the reluctant Allan Pinkerton to bring his forces to bear on the outlaws in the David versus Goliath battle.
American Outlaws tag line, bad is good again, should tell you something about the nature of the story. In this sanitized, politically correct telling of the James Gang legend all the outlaws are noble, kind and good. They are ruthless in dealing with Rains's henchmen, but careful not to involve innocents in their frequent gun battles with Pinkerton's private army, even in the middle of a bustling town. Scenes of the gallant young men giving large sums of stolen loot to the church or scattering dollars to the poor make you see that these are just good boys who are forced into a life of crime to protect their farms, families and selves.
A scene from American Outlaws with Timothy as Allan Pinkerton in the background.
But, what it is really all about is romance, intrigue, shootouts, horse chases, lots of things blowing up, revenge and justice. The clichéd, sometimes goofy, not often serious dialogue is an unusual plus for the film and helps string together the set action pieces, starting with the Civil War opening. There are bank robbery sequences, a cacophonous ambush, a grand train escape scene and more by way of action. There is also a stab at romance between Jesse and his childhood sweetheart, Zee Mimms (Ali Larter), in a move that holds homage to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" with Zee a strong, supportive friend and true love (and, she is hell with a canon). Sure it's politically correct, but in a good, positive way. If the outlaws weren't always killing people and breaking the law, I'd have this nice bunch of guys and gal over for dinner.
The cast is uniformly personable with Irishman Colin Farrell first among equals as the pivotal character Jesse James. He displays humor, charm and wit and does a darn good job performing the tough stunts and horse riding. Scot Caan is solid as Cole Younger, the only rival to the charismatic Jesse. Gabriel Macht steals the screen as Frank James and puts a nice spin on his perf as the gang's "mother" and quiet wise man, as well as being the best shot. Will McCormack is endearing as Bob Younger, especially his hurt reaction when he sees how bad his wanted poster picture looks. The rest of the gang fits the bill and everyone worked and trained hard for their rolls. Vet thesps Dalton, Bates, Yulin, Ronny Cox and Terry O'Quinn give the air of maturity without spoiling the film's inherent youthful fun.
Production values are first rate with Russell Boyd's lensing providing a crystal clear image with fluid camera work that captures the action beautifully. Authentic-looking costume by Luke Reichle gives a hip, Old West look to the handsome cast, with a lot of individuality given to each player. Production designers Cary White and John Frick make the Wild West come alive with their recreation of frontier towns. The screenplay by Roderick Taylor and John Rogers is full of cliché but uses it to good affect, although some of the dialogue made me slap my head.
American Outlaws is good-hearted and good-natured fun that isn't going to bump anything off of the best western film list. It does entertain, it looks good and there is solid acting that could be star making. Finally, some good mainstream summer entertainment. I give it a B.
Review of American Outlaws by — Mary Kalin-Casey
American Outlaws begins at the close of the Civil War, as Missouri farmers Jesse and Frank James (Gabriel Macht and Colin Farrell) return from the battle with cousins Cole and Bill Younger (Scott Caan and Will McCormack) to find their land in danger from government-backed, cross-country railroad construction. Spearheaded by Rock Island Railroad's scheming financier, Thaddeus Rains (ubiquitous cinema baddie Harris Yulin), and enforced by both Army soldiers and the infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency, land-grabbing in the name of progress leads to the hanging of uncooperative "traitors," farm-burning, and cold-blooded murder. Having mastered the arts of gunfighting and sabotage during the war, the James-Younger team forms a vigilante gang, and begins systematic robbery of railroad capital from banks and incoming trains. Like Mel Gibson's Patriot, they commence immoral deeds in the name of kin and kind.
Timothy as Allan Pinkerton
And like a 19th-century Robin Hood, Jesse convinces his colleagues to share the stolen cash with the railroad's victims, which makes the renegades beloved and protected among their neighbors — and much harder for security chief Allan Pinkerton (a bearded and brogued Timothy Dalton) to catch. Boosting the gang's reputation is Jesse's polite demeanor while committing the thefts and his savvy media manipulation, in the form of personally written news stories. But a growing power struggle between the cautious James and his "co-leader," Cole, eventually splits the gang.
Amid all of his righteous pilfering, Jesse seeks the affections of the intelligent and resourceful Zeralda Mimms (Final Destination's Ali Larter), affectionately known as "Zee." But the gunslinger repeatedly finds himself torn between his violent brand of community service and marriage to the woman he loves so dearly.
Pictured on the right is Director Les Mayfield
There's nothing particularly unique about American Outlaws' characterizations, story, script, or style, other than director Les Mayfield's (Blue Streak) surprising cinematic verisimilitude. While fairly simplistic in his helming approach, Mayfield retains a completely dust-covered and earth-toned atmosphere that never seems contemporary. Peppering their yarn with words and phrases like "he's full of vinegar," "shindig," and "dag nabbit," screenwriters Roderick Taylor and John Rogers have a good time employing punch-line retorts without ever once slipping into present-day colloquialisms. The only attempt at modernizing the tale comes in the role of Zee, who most likely did not aid and abet in quite the flamboyant fashion depicted herein, though the dewy-fresh Larter is believable when she scolds with the 21st-century, girl-power appeal, "If you mess up because you don't listen to a woman, then damn you all."
Farrell turned heads with his knockout performance as the strikingly magnetic, rebellious boot-camp leader in Joel Schumacher's little-seen Tigerland. Here he seems less like a man and more like an eager boy on the cusp of adulthood, gaze with impossibly huge doe eyes that are, if not a window to Jesse's soul, significant in establishing him as an honorable antihero. As the elder Frank, Macht has nearly as much screen time and more dramatic heft, quoting Shakespeare and acting as the stable peacekeeper of the group. However, the three Youngers are essentially archetypal parts to be filled: Cole the muscular hothead, Bob the insecure middle child, and Jim the young tag-along looking to prove his mettle. Caan, McCormack, and Smith fit their roles neatly, though in no way do they resemble blood relatives.
The James-Younger Gang in American Outlaws
James historians will be quick to point out the innumerable liberties taken by Taylor, Rogers, and Mayfield in depicting the lives of the wild, wild West's most infamous criminals, yet the script maintains an equal balance between faithful interpretation and dramatic contrivance. Though most of the scenes are based in truth, they are often conglomerations of real-life events that are more accurate in spirit than in specific detail. Things like the group's wartime acquisition of combat skills (which was learned through their affiliation with the vicious Quantrill's Raiders); Jesse's devotion to wife (and cousin, a detail neatly omitted from the film) Zee; the nefarious U.S. government-railroad power trust; the resultant, murderous farm immolations (an actual James-family occurrence, though with a different outcome in American Outlaws); and the general perception that the James-Younger gang was justified in its desire for retribution, if not in its methods, are all historically documented. Taking the question of accuracy one step further, there are also conflicting accounts as to whether the robbing hoods actually did give to the poor; the actual James story didn't have quite as happy an ending; and, as young Bobby Brady learned so poignantly on a very special episode of The Brady Bunch, Jesse James killed an awful lot of people.
American Outlaws offers not one iota of factual or fictitious information that in any way detracts from their positive spin on the James brothers myth, though Cole Younger is portrayed as greedy and jealous. Every one of their victims "deserves" death, and though countless bodies drop in the ongoing blaze of gunfire, no actual blood is shed on-screen other than that of sympathetic characters — apparently only they are human. Likewise, the film's significant emphasis on humor gives the outlaws a fraternal geniality that makes them doggoned hard to despise.
But American Outlaws remains a highly enjoyable popcorn flick for exactly the reasons that it fails as a historical record. By keeping the subjects appealing, the villains simplistic, the dialogue upbeat, and the deaths unaffecting, American Outlaws entertains the way a summer matinee movie should, with an agreeable blend of romance, action, humor, and a likeable cast. And while the subject could easily have made for a compelling dramatic epic, the filmmakers in no way intend their tale as such. These American Outlaws may rob audiences of a solid drama about the James-Younger gang, but it's still an enjoyable ride.