For those of us who love a good western and an alternate take on history, American Outlaws serves up both and the Colin Farrell led movie has just been made available on the super streamer Netflix.
American Outlaws is a look back in time at what could have happened. The cast, led by Colin Farrell as outlaw gunslinger Jesse James, also boasts Gabriel Macht as his brother Frank, Scott Caan as Cole Younger, with Gregory Smith and Will McCormack as Cole’s brothers Jim and Bob.
This alternate-history western tells the story of the James and Younger brothers, five friends who are serving their time in the Civil War. As the war comes to an end, the brothers decide to head back home to their families in Missouri.
Upon their arrival, they see that much has changed. The Union Army has now occupied their town and the railroad is pushing its way through. Farmers are being pressured by Allan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton) to sell their land to Thaddeus Rains (Harris Yulin). If they don’t, they are either burned out of their homes or straight out murdered.
The James and the Youngers do not, and will not, sell. When Pinkerton’s men approach him to sell, Cole loses his temper, killing two of them. Cole is then sentenced to hang, but his brothers, along with the James’s, rescue him. Colin Farrell’s Jesse James is shot in the rescue, having now to hide out in childhood friend Zee Mimms’ (Ali Larter) home.
In their attempt to get back at the James’, the railroad has set fire to the James’ ranch, killing their mother. This puts the James and Younger brothers on a ride for revenge but instead of killing, they resort to robbing banks of the railroad’s money. The James-Younger Gang are now outlaws and Pinkerton is in pursuit.
As the gang becomes more successful and popular amongst the people, derision among the gang begins to creep in. This makes trouble for Colin Farrell’s Jesse James. Cole feels Jesse’s ego is getting too big from their growing popularity and when the two go face-to-face, Jesse finally backs down, allowing Cole to take charge. His first order of business is to rob a bank, but the robbery is foiled by a trap set by Rains and Pinkerton. In the process, Cole’s brother Jim is shot and killed.
The gang goes their separate ways and Jesse and Zee try to start a life of their own. Things look good, that is until Pinkerton shows up to arrest Colin Farrell’s Jesse.
American Outlaws is most definitely a revisionist history look at the James and Younger Gangs, two groups who, for a decade, were the most notorious and feared as well as most wanted in all of the American outlaws. While the numbers in the group fluctuated from robbery to robbery, it mainly consisted of the five previously named. Their robberies included banks, trains, and stagecoaches and often ended with a lot of killing. Throughout their decade of terror, the gang was suspected to have committed crimes in eleven states that include West Virginia, Kentucky, Iowa, Tennessee, Texas, Kansas, Minnesota, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and their home state of Missouri.
As fun a movie as American Outlaws sounds, it was not well-received by critics. To most, it was considered a Young Guns rip-off and one that was not as well constructed. But while critics ripped the movie, audiences took a liking to it, though it came well after the movie was released. The box office was poor with director Les Mayfield only nabbing a mere $13 million on the film’s $35 million budget.
American Outlaws is just another example of Colin Farrell’s eclectic Hollywood life. It was also one of his early career movies that included Hart’s War, Minority Report, Phone Booth, and Daredevil. Throughout his career, Farrell has played police officers (S.W.A.T., True Detective, Miami Vice), historical figures (The New World), and vampires (Fright Night). Farrell has also appeared in three Disney movies, Saving Mr. Banks, Artemis Fowl, and the live-action remake of Dumbo.
Up next for Colin Farrell is his highly anticipated take on another popular comic book character, Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin in Matt Reeves’ The Batman. In the brief glimpses fans have gotten of Farrell as Cobblepot, if one didn’t know it was Farrell, it would be hard to guess it was him as he is virtually unrecognizable under all the make-up and prosthetics. Farrell’s dive into the Cobblepot character was so deep that not even his co-stars knew who he was on set.
But that’s 2022. For now, if you like your westerns presented as an alternate look at history, give American Outlaws on Netflix a try. You just might like it.