Making the Grades
Quick on the draw, American Outlaw's opening ambush sequence seemed to enthrall the predominately Stetson wearing, entirely male audience that I (a female) screened with.
Hoping to return to farming after serving in the American Civil War, the James brothers and their cousins from the Younger family are disappointed to discover that trouble's-a-brewin' back at the ranch. A big bad railroad tycoon, his agents, and a special group of detectives are using the government's approval as clout to persuade the locals to sell their land cheap. Although none of the boys are willing to accept the offer, Cole Younger (Scott Caan) expresses his disapproval by killing a couple of the prospective purchasers. To save their cousin's neck from the noose, the cocky quick-draw Jesse (Colin Farrell) and his book-learned, sharp-shooting brother Frank (Gabriel Macht) decide to wage a private war to derail the mogul's progress.
Forming the James-Younger Gang they begin holding up banks, robbing payroll, and blowing up tracks, which supplies plenty of gun fighting opportunities. They also wisely buy support and good will (and audience sympathy) by sharing their take with the general population. Although the cunning and patient Detective Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton) is in charge of the railroad's resistance, the biggest threat to the gang's survival may be an emerging leadership power struggle.
American Outlaws is a glamorization of crime with Robin Hood ethics that contains some sexual references, moderate language use, and violent depictions. While these are undeniably gratuitous, they are not overly gory or psychologically disturbing. This leaves parents of older teens with the difficult dilemma of deciding if killing for entertainment's sake with no significant attempt to show consequences is really any better.
The action and witty script are sure to supply the film's targeted demographic with lots of what they are looking for. But anyone interested in the history of Jesse James and his band of outlaws may want to seriously heed the disclaimer in the closing credits, which states all characters portrayed in this film are fictitious and any similarity to real persons is purely coincidental.